The vagus is the nerve to know

eva headshotSpeaking. Breathing. Eating. The da-dum, da-dum, da-dum of your heart. The vagus nerve (aka Cranial Nerve X or, more poetically, the Wandering Nerve) plays a crucial role in all of these essential functions, linking brain and organs in what’s called the nervous system’s superhighway. While most of its important work passes without notice, the vagus has long been on medicine’s radar, as far back as the Greek physician Galen in the second century. It’s a big nerve with long tentacles that reach a surprising variety of places. Stimulating it can help relieve hard-to-treat epilepsy and depression.

Now, Sarah Schwartz reports, doctors are investigating whether it can also help with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and other diseases. Given its anatomy, the potential seems amazing. But some scientists point out how much is left to learn about the nerve. For sure, more science needs to be done. Galen, an early proponent of experimentation, would probably approve. 

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