TREAT AF (Transcutaneous Electrical Vagus Nerve Stimulation to Suppress Atrial Fibrillation): A Randomized Clinical Trial

JACC Clin Electrophysiol. 2020 Mar;6(3):282-291. doi: 10.1016/j.jacep.2019.11.008. Epub 2020 Jan 29.


Objectives: This study was a sham-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial to examine the effect of chronic low level tragus stimulation (LLTS) in patients with paroxysmal AF.

Background: Low-level transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve at the tragus (LLTS) acutely suppresses atrial fibrillation (AF) in humans, but the chronic effect remains unknown.

Methods: LLTS (20 Hz, 1 mA below the discomfort threshold) was delivered using an ear clip attached to the tragus (active arm) (n = 26) or the ear lobe (sham control arm) (n = 27) for 1 h daily over 6 months. AF burden over 2-week periods was assessed by noninvasive continuous electrocardiogram monitoring at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months. Five-minute electrocardiography and serum were obtained at each visit to measure heart rate variability and inflammatory cytokines, respectively.

Results: Baseline characteristics were balanced between the 2 groups. Adherence to the stimulation protocol (≤4 sessions lost per month) was 75% in the active arm and 83% in the control arm (p > 0.05). At 6 months, the median AF burden was 85% lower in the active arm compared with the control arm (ratio of medians: 0.15; 95% confidence interval: 0.03 to 0.65; p = 0.011). Tumor necrosis factor-alpha was significantly decreased by 23% in the active group relative to the control group (ratio of medians: 0.77; 95% confidence interval: 0.63 to 0.94; p = 0.0093). Frequency domain indices of heart rate variability were significantly altered with active versus control stimulation (p < 0.01). No device-related side effects were observed.

Conclusions: Chronic, intermittent LLTS resulted in lower AF burden than did sham control stimulation, supporting its use to treat paroxysmal AF in selected patients. (Transcutaneous Electrical Vagus Nerve Stimulation to Suppress Atrial Fibrillation [TREAT-AF]; NCT02548754).

Keywords: atrial fibrillation; neuromodulation; randomized clinical trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Ear, External / physiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation / methods*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology

Associated data