Preliminary reports have suggested that chronic, intermittent stimulation of the vagus nerve (VNS) is an alternative treatment for patients with medically refractory seizures. We performed a multicenter, randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety of adjunctive VNS in patients with poorly controlled partial seizures. An implanted, programmable pacemaker-like device was connected to two stimulating electrodes wrapped around the left vagus nerve. One hundred fourteen patients were randomized to receive 14 weeks of high-level stimulation (presumed therapeutic dose) or low-level stimulation (presumed subtherapeutic dose) using a blinded, parallel study design. Seizure frequency was compared with a 12-week baseline. Mean reduction in seizure frequency was 24.5% for the "high" stimulation group versus 6.1% for the "low" stimulation group (p = 0.01). Thirty-one percent of patients receiving high stimulation had a seizure frequency reduction of > or = 50%, versus 13% of patients in the low group (p = 0.02). Treatment emergent side effects were largely limited to a transient hoarseness occurring during the stimulation train. One patient with no previous history of cardiac disease experienced a myocardial infarction during the third month of vagal stimulation. VNS may be an effective alternative treatment for patients who have failed antiepileptic drug therapy and are not optimal candidates for epilepsy surgery.