Molecular Mechanisms of Vagus Nerve Stimulation Enhancement of Extinction in an Impaired Animal Model
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Vagus nerve stimulation is a therapy approved by the FDA for prevention of seizures in humans. Research from rodent models as well as in humans shows that when administered immediately after a learning task, VNS enhances consolidation of memory for that task. Administration of VNS during trials of fear extinction learning enhances extinction of fear and affects synaptic plasticity in regions of the brain that are important for fear and extinction memory formation. These results position VNS as a potential adjunct to behavioral therapy for the treatment of disorders that are characterized by strong aversive memories or resistance to extinction of fear, like post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and other anxiety disorders. Although VNS has been shown to enhance extinction of fear and affect synaptic plasticity in healthy rats, the ability of VNS to reverse impaired extinction of fear and diminish symptoms related to social anxiety disorder has not been tested. These studies were designed to test the potential of VNS to rescue extinction learning, influence social behaviors, and affect synaptic plasticity in an impaired animal model.