Zapping the 10th cranial nerve may treat arthritis, heart failure, headaches and more
Nicolle Rager Fuller
With outposts in nearly every organ and a direct line into the brain stem, the vagus nerve is the nervous system’s superhighway. About 80 percent of its nerve fibers — or four of its five “lanes” — drive information from the body to the brain. Its fifth lane runs in the opposite direction, shuttling signals from the brain throughout the body.
Doctors have long exploited the nerve’s influence on the brain to combat epilepsy and depression. Electrical stimulation of the vagus through a surgically implanted device has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a therapy for patients who don’t get relief from existing treatments.
Now, researchers are taking a closer look at the nerve to see if stimulating its fibers can improve treatments for rheumatoid arthritis,