Effects of short and prolonged transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation on heart rate variability in healthy subjects

Auton Neurosci. 2017 Mar:203:88-96. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2016.11.003. Epub 2016 Nov 30.


The vagus nerve is strategically located in the body, and has multiple homeostatic and health-promoting effects. Low vagal activity predicts onset and progression of diseases. These are the reasons to activate this nerve. This study examined the effects of transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (t-VNS) on a main index of vagal activity, namely heart rate variability (HRV). In Study 1, we compared short (10min) left versus right ear t-VNS versus sham (no stimulation) in a within-subjects experimental design. Results revealed significant increases in only one HRV parameter (standard deviation of the RR intervals (SDNN)) following right-ear t-VNS. Study 2 examined the prolonged effects of t-VNS (1h) in the right ear. Compared to baseline, right-t-VNS significantly increased the LF and LF/HF components of HRV, and SDNN in women, but not in men. These results show limited effects of t-VNS on HRV, and are discussed in light of neuroanatomical and statistical considerations and future directions are proposed.

Keywords: Acute effect; Heart rate variability; Prolonged effects; Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation; Vagus nerve.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Ear
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation / methods*
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult