A novel medical technique that smuggles an electrical charge into the brain through the vagus nerve is proving at least as effective as medication in controlling severe depression, psychiatrists say.via Wired
In vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, a two-inch diameter, .25 inch thick disk is surgically tucked under the skin near the left collarbone, then wired upward to the vagus nerve in the neck. The battery-operated disk delivers intermittent, rhythmic pulses to the nerve -- whose name means "wandering" in Latin -- that reaches a half dozen areas of the brain critical to treating depression, according to Dr. Darin Dougherty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Instead of prescribing milligrams I'm prescribing milliamps," Dougherty says. The implanted disc is programmed and reprogrammed with a wand held over the skin. Data on each patient about the intensity and frequency of the pulse and device settings is stored in individual memory cards slotted into in a handheld computer linked to the wand.
Researchers know the treatment stimulates norepinephrine and serotonin centers, now treated with pharma at a tepid success rate, and increases blood flow and neuron activity. But they candidly say they don't fully understand why VNS works.