Summary: Using stimulation, scientists found a direct connection between the vagus nerve and the learning centers of the brain. Vagus nerve stimulation has been found to increase learning in a healthy nervous system.
A source: University of Colorado
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have shown that there is a direct link between stimulation of the vagus nerve and its connection to the brain’s learning centers. The discovery could lead to treatments that improve cognitive preservation in healthy and damaged nervous systems.
The investigation was published last week in the Journal Neuron.
“We concluded that there is a direct connection between the vagus nerve, the cholinergic system that regulates certain aspects of brain function, and neurons in the motor cortex that are important in learning new skills,” said Christine Welle, PhD, senior author of the paper and associate research associate in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. .
“This gives hope to patients with various motor and cognitive impairments and helps healthy people learn new skills more quickly.”
The researchers taught healthy mice a difficult task to see if it would help them improve their learning. They found that stimulating the vagus nerve during the process helped them learn the task faster and achieve higher performance. It has been shown that vagus nerve stimulation can enhance learning in a healthy nervous system.
The vagus nerve is very important because it regulates internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate, and breathing. It also helps control reflex actions such as coughing, swallowing and sneezing.
The study also found a direct connection between the vagus nerve and the cholinergic system, which is critical for learning and attention. As the vagus nerve was stimulated, the researchers were able to observe neurons that control learning activated within the cholinergic system.
Disruption of this system has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other behavioral and cognitive conditions. Now that this connection is established in healthy nervous systems, Welle said the systems could lead to better treatments for those affected.
“The idea of getting the brain to learn new things is important for any disease that has motor or cognitive impairments,” he said.
“Our hope is that vagus nerve stimulation can be combined with rehabilitation in disorders for patients recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, or a number of other conditions.”
In addition to the research, Welle and his team applied for a grant that would allow them to use a non-invasive device to stimulate the vagus nerve to treat patients with multiple sclerosis who develop motor deficits. He also hopes to use the device to help healthy people learn new skills faster.
“I think there’s a lot of untapped potential for using vagus nerve stimulation to help the brain heal itself,” he said. “By continuing to investigate it, we can ultimately optimize patient recovery and open new doors to learning.”
Neuroscience research news about it
Author: Laura Kelly
A source: University of Colorado
The connection: Laura Kelly – University of Colorado
Photo: Image is in the public domain
Original research: Closed access.
“Vagus Nerve Stimulation Controls Modulation of Selective Circuitry by Cholinergic Reinforcement” Christine Welle et al. neuron
Vagus nerve stimulation induces selective circuit modulation through cholinergic reinforcement
- Successfully paired VNS improves skilled motor learning in healthy animals
- Improved motor performance is due to accelerated consolidation of the expert motor plan
- Enhanced motor learning depends on cholinergic neural activity in the basal forebrain
- In the primary motor cortex, VNS modulates neurons that are activated by a specific effect
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a neuromodulation therapy for a broad and expanding set of neurologic conditions. However, the mechanism by which VNS affects the circuitry of the central nervous system is not well described, limiting therapeutic optimization.
VNS causes widespread brain damage, but its effects on behavior are remarkably specific, suggesting a particular plasticity in neural circuits involved in behavior.
To understand how VNS leads to specific circuit modulation, we use genetic tools, including optogenetics and in vivo Calcium imaging in mice learning a skilled reaching task.
We find that VNS enhances skilled motor learning in healthy animals through a cholinergic reinforcement mechanism, leading to rapid consolidation of expert access trajectories. In the primary motor cortex (M1), VNS drives require temporal modulation of neurons that respond to behavioral outcomes.
This suggests that VNS may accelerate motor refinement in M1 through cholinergic signaling, opening new avenues for optimizing VNS to target specific disease-relevant circuits.