Evaluation of External Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation to Prevent Cerebral Vasospasm after Subarachnoid Hemorrhage Due to Aneurysmal Rupture: A Randomized, Double-Blind Proof-of-Concept Pilot Trial (TRIVASOSTIM Study)

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 May 16;20(10):5836. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20105836.


Cerebral vasospasm remains the most frequent and devastating complication after subarachnoid aneurysmal hemorrhage because of secondary cerebral ischemia and its sequelae. The underlying pathophysiology involves vasodilator peptide release (such as CGRP) and nitric oxide depletion at the level of the precapillary sphincters of the cerebral (internal carotid artery network) and dural (external carotid artery network) arteries, which are both innervated by craniofacial autonomic afferents and tightly connected to the trigeminal nerve and trigemino-cervical nucleus complex. We hypothesized that trigeminal nerve modulation could influence the cerebral flow of this vascular network through a sympatholytic effect and decrease the occurrence of vasospasm and its consequences. We conducted a prospective double-blind, randomized controlled pilot trial to compare the effect of 10 days of transcutaneous electrical trigeminal nerve stimulation vs. sham stimulation on cerebral infarction occurrence at 3 months. Sixty patients treated for aneurysmal SAH (World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies scale between 1 and 4) were included. We compared the radiological incidence of delayed cerebral ischemia (DCI) on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at 3 months in moderate and severe vasospasm patients receiving trigeminal nerve stimulation (TNS group) vs. sham stimulation (sham group). Our primary endpoint (the infarction rate at the 3-month follow-up) did not significantly differ between the two groups (p = 0.99). Vasospasm-related infarctions were present in seven patients (23%) in the TNS group and eight patients (27%) in the sham group. Ultimately, we were not able to show that TNS can decrease the rate of cerebral infarction secondary to vasospasm occurrence. As a result, it would be premature to promote trigeminal system neurostimulation in this context. This concept should be the subject of further research.

Keywords: TENS; brain aneurysm; delayed cerebral ischemia; magnetic resonance imaging; neurostimulation; subarachnoid hemorrhage; trigeminal nerve; trigemino-cervical complex; vasospasm.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Brain Ischemia* / epidemiology
  • Cerebral Infarction
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage* / complications
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage* / therapy
  • Trigeminal Nerve
  • Vasospasm, Intracranial* / etiology
  • Vasospasm, Intracranial* / prevention & control

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.