Transcutaneous Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation Improves Inflammation but Does Not Interfere with Cardiac Modulation and Clinical Symptoms of Individuals with COVID-19: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Life (Basel). 2022 Oct 19;12(10):1644. doi: 10.3390/life12101644.


Transcranial auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) has shown effectiveness in reducing inflammation and depression. Thus, this study evaluated its effect on inflammation, cardiac autonomic modulation, and clinical symptoms in individuals affected by COVID-19. Methods: There were 52 randomized participants hospitalized with COVID-19 diagnosis who were to receive active (a-taVNS) or sham taVNS (s-taVNS) for 90 min twice a day for seven consecutive days. Interleukin 6 (IL-6), 10 (IL-10), cortisol, C-reactive protein (CRP), heart rate variability (HRV), and clinical symptoms were assessed before and after seven days of treatment. There were also seven- and fourteen-day follow-ups for clinical symptoms, including anxiety and depression levels, as well as a six-month follow-up for memory and attention levels. Results: There was significant reduction in CRP −23.9%, (95% CI −46.3 to −1.4) and IL-6 −37.7%, (95% CI −57.6 to −17.7) for the a-taVNS group. There were no changes in IL-10, cortisol levels, or in HRV results (p > 0.05) in both groups. There were no changes regarding clinical symptoms, except for a significant decrease in depression level (−2.85, 95% CI −5.44 to −0.27) in the a-taVNS group. Conclusion: taVNS showed effects on CRP, IL-6, and depression levels; however, it did not affect other clinical symptoms.

Keywords: COVID-19; autonomic modulation; clinical symptoms; inflammation; vagus nerve stimulation.