The strange case of the ear and the heart: The auricular vagus nerve and its influence on cardiac control

Auton Neurosci. 2016 Aug;199:48-53. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2016.06.004. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


The human ear seems an unlikely candidate for therapies aimed at improving cardiac function, but the ear and the heart share a common connection: the vagus nerve. In recent years there has been increasing interest in the auricular branch of the vagus nerve (ABVN), a unique cutaneous subdivision of the vagus distributed to the external ear. Non-invasive electrical stimulation of this nerve through the skin may offer a simple, cost-effective alternative to the established method of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), which requires a surgical procedure and has generated mixed results in a number of clinical trials for heart failure. This review discusses the available evidence in support of modulating cardiac activity using this strange auricular nerve.

Keywords: Auricular; Autonomic; Heart; Sympathetic; Vagus; Vagus nerve stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ear / physiology*
  • Ear / surgery
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology*
  • Heart Failure / surgery
  • Humans
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiopathology
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation* / economics
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation* / methods