Vagus nerve stimulation in humans: neurophysiological studies and electrophysiological monitoring.
Evidence from studies of experimental animals indicates that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve alters behavioral and electrographic seizure activity. We report on effects of electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve in five patients with medically intractable seizures as part of a clinical trial of chronic vagal stimulation for control of epilepsy. The mechanism of action of the vagal antiepileptic effect is unknown, and it is hoped that analysis of electrophysiological effects of vagal nerve stimulation will help elucidate which brain areas are affected. Stimulation of the left vagus nerve in the neck was accomplished with a programmable implanted stimulator. Effects of stimulus amplitude, duration, and rate were studied. Noncephalic reference recording of the vagus-nerve-evoked potential showed some unusual properties: a scalp negative component occurred with latency of 12 ms, very high amplitude (up to 60 microV), and widespread scalp distribution. Field distribution studies indicate that this potential is generated in the neck, in the region of the stimulating electrodes. Muscle paralysis confirms this observation. Stimulation at various frequencies had no noticeable effect on electroencephalographic (EEG) activity regardless of whether the patient was under general anesthesia, awake, or asleep.