Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Eric Beaumont

Committee Members

Michelle Chandley, Diego Rodriguez-Gil, Antonio Rusinol, Matthew Zahner


Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a promising neuromodulatory therapy under investigation for a range of disorders, including heart failure, gastric dysmotility, and migraine. Two primary forms of VNS are currently investigated: cervical VNS (cVNS), involving surgically implantation to activate vagal afferents in the cervical branch in the neck and transcutaneous auricular VNS (taVNS) which subcutaneously stimulates the auricular branch in the outer ear. The nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) serves as a relay-station receiving 90% of vagal afferents, enabling connections with higher-order brain regions and other brainstem nuclei like the spinal trigeminal nucleus (Sp5) and locus coeruleus (LC), facilitating neuromodulation through VNS. Research has established the efficacy of VNS at 20–30 Hz for disorders like depression, but the impact of alternative stimulation parameters on medullary nuclei neuromodulation remains unclear. These studies used anesthetized rats to extracellularly record neuronal activity across varying VNS parameters within NTS, Sp5, and LC. Neuronal responses were classified as positive (increased activity), negative (decreased activity), or non-responders (no response). In LC, cVNS at standard paradigms (≥ 10 Hz) and bursting paradigms with shorter interburst intervals or increased pulses induced more positive responders, while standard 5 Hz generated more negative responders. Additionally, a build-up effect was observed in LC, with increased responders over consecutive VNS cycles. In NTS and Sp5, taVNS evoked comparable activation, with more positive responders at 20 Hz and 100 Hz and stronger responses at higher intensities. However, Sp5 responses were twice as strong compared to NTS. Furthermore, comparative analysis between taVNS and cVNS revealed similar overall activation in NTS, but distinct activation profiles in individual neurons indicate different pathways. Finally, the therapeutic efficacy of VNS therapy was evaluated in heart failure using a pressure-overload rat model. A 60-day cVNS treatment restored adverse cardiac remodeling and dysfunction, mitigated cardiac molecular changes, and prevented neuroinflammatory responses within brainstem nuclei. The findings presented herein demonstrated differential parameter-specific and nuclei-specific responses to taVNS and cVNS, investigated the mechanisms responsible for taVNS modulation, and confirmed that VNS therapy, when initiated early, can mitigate heart failure development and restore multiorgan homeostasis in a PO model.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo


Copyright by the authors.

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