Objective: There is growing interest in treating diseases by electrical stimulation and block of peripheral autonomic nerves, but a paucity of studies on the excitation and block of small-diameter autonomic axons. We conducted in vivo quantification of the strength-duration properties, activity-dependent slowing (ADS), and responses to kilohertz frequency (KHF) signals for the rat vagus nerve (VN).
Approach: We conducted acute in vivo experiments in urethane-anaesthetized rats. We placed two cuff electrodes on the left cervical VN and one cuff electrode on the anterior subdiaphragmatic VN. The rostral cervical cuff was used to deliver pulses to quantify recruitment and ADS. The caudal cervical cuff was used to deliver KHF signals. The subdiaphragmatic cuff was used to record compound action potentials (CAPs).
Main results: We quantified the input-output recruitment and strength-duration curves. Fits to the data using standard strength-duration equations were qualitatively similar, but the resulting chronaxie and rheobase estimates varied substantially. We measured larger thresholds for the slowest fibres (0.5-1 m s-1), especially at shorter pulse widths. Using a novel cross-correlation CAP-based analysis, we measured ADS of ~2.3% after 3 min of 2 Hz stimulation, which is comparable to the ADS reported for sympathetic efferents in somatic nerves, but much smaller than the ADS in cutaneous nociceptors. We found greater ADS with higher stimulation frequency and non-monotonic changes in CV in select cases. We found monotonically increasing block thresholds across frequencies from 10 to 80 kHz for both fast and slow fibres. Further, following 25 s of KHF signal, neural conduction could require tens of seconds to recover.
Significance: The quantification of mammalian autonomic nerve responses to conventional and KHF signals provides essential information for the development of peripheral nerve stimulation therapies and for understanding their mechanisms of action.