Vagus nerve stimulation as a potential adjuvant to behavioral therapy for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders

J Neurodev Disord. 2017 Jul 4;9:20. doi: 10.1186/s11689-017-9203-z. eCollection 2017.


Background: Many children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders undergo expensive, time-consuming behavioral interventions that often yield only modest improvements. The development of adjunctive interventions that can increase the benefit of rehabilitation therapies is essential in order to improve the lives of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Main text: Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is an FDA approved therapy that is safe and effective in reducing seizure frequency and duration in individuals with epilepsy. Individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders often exhibit decreased vagal tone, and studies indicate that VNS can be used to overcome an insufficient vagal response. Multiple studies have also documented significant improvements in quality of life after VNS therapy in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. Moreover, recent findings indicate that VNS significantly enhances the benefits of rehabilitative training in animal models and patients, leading to greater recovery in a variety of neurological diseases. Here, we review these findings and provide a discussion of how VNS paired with rehabilitation may yield benefits in the context of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Conclusions: VNS paired with behavioral therapy may represent a potential new approach to enhance rehabilitation that could significantly improve the outcomes of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Keywords: Autism; Cortex; Cortical reorganization; Plasticity; Vagal nerve.

Publication types

  • Review