Vagus Nerve Stimulation Reverses the Extinction Impairments in a Model of PTSD with Prolonged and Repeated Trauma


We have shown that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) enhances extinction of conditioned fear and reduces anxiety in rat models of PTSD using moderate stress. However, it is still unclear if VNS can be effective in enhancing extinction of severe fear after prolonged and repeated trauma. Severe fear was induced in adult male rats by combining single prolonged stress (SPS) and protracted aversive conditioning (PAC). After SPS and PAC procedures, rats were implanted with stimulating cuff electrodes, exposed to five days of extinction training with or without VNS, and then tested for extinction retention, return of fear in a new context and reinstatement. The elevated plus maze, open field and startle were used to test anxiety. Sham rats showed no reduction of fear during extensive extinction training. VNS-paired with extinction training reduced freezing at the last extinction session by 70% compared to sham rats. VNS rats exhibited half as much fear as shams, as well as less fear renewal. Sham rats exhibited significantly more anxiety than naive controls, whereas VNS rats did not. These results demonstrate that VNS enhances extinction and reduces anxiety in a severe model of PTSD that combined SPS and a conditioning procedure that is 30 times more intense than the conditioning procedures in previous VNS studies. The broad utility of VNS in enhancing extinction learning in rats and the strong clinical safety record of VNS suggest that VNS holds promise as an adjuvant to exposure-based therapy in people with PTSD and other complex forms of this condition. ©2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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Anxiety, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Fear--Extinction (Psychology), Vagus Nerve Stimulation, Rats as laboratory animals


©2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.