Study protocol for a pivotal randomised study assessing vagus nerve stimulation during rehabilitation for improved upper limb motor function after stroke

Eur Stroke J. 2019 Dec;4(4):363-377. doi: 10.1177/2396987319855306. Epub 2019 Jun 17.


Background: Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) paired with a motor task improves motor outcome in rat stroke models. It is hypothesised that VNS delivered during rehabilitation will improve upper limb function compared to control rehabilitation therapy. Two pilot clinical studies demonstrated acceptable safety and feasibility of VNS paired with rehabilitation for improved upper limb function after stroke. Participants who received rehabilitation paired with VNS demonstrated clinically meaningful improvements in motor function that exceed gains seen among controls who received similar rehabilitation without VNS. These preliminary data support a larger pivotal trial.

Methods: VNS-REHAB (VNS-Rehabilitation) is a pivotal, multi-site, double-blinded, randomised trial designed to evaluate safety and efficacy of VNS paired with upper limb rehabilitation after ischaemic stroke. The study will include up to 120 participants with upper limb weakness due to stroke nine months to 10 years prior. All participants will be implanted with a VNS device and randomised to receive either Active (0.8 mA) or Control VNS (0.0 mA) paired with upper limb rehabilitation. All participants receive 18 sessions of in-clinic therapy for six weeks, followed by a home-based therapy for three months. The rehabilitation therapy involves progressive, functionally based and intensive practice of hand and arm tasks. VNS is delivered during each movement repetition. After blinded follow-up is completed, the Active vagus nerve stimulation group continues with home-based Active VNS and the Control group receive six weeks of in-clinic therapy with Active VNS followed by home-based Active VNS. The primary efficacy endpoint will be the difference in Fugl-Meyer assessment-upper extremity scores between the Active VNS and Control VNS groups at the end of six weeks of in-clinic therapy. Additional secondary endpoints will also be measured. Safety will be assessed with analysis of adverse events and device complications during study participation.

Discussion: This pivotal trial will determine whether VNS paired with rehabilitation is a safe and effective treatment for improving arm function after stroke.Trial Registration:, NCT03131960. Registered on 27 April 2017.

Keywords: Vagus nerve; neuromodulation; plasticity; rehabilitation; stroke; upper limb.

Associated data