You may need the vagus nerve to understand pathophysiology and to treat diseases

Marijke De Couck, Boris Mravec, Yori Gidron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Can different pathophysiological mechanisms and risk factors leading to various diseases be linked with altered transmission of signals by one common pathway? The present article provides evidence for the hypothesis that adequate vagal nerve activity reduces the risk ofmajor diseases, via common basic mechanisms and interim risk factors. These diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and the metabolic syndrome. Three basic mechanisms contribute to such illnesses: local oxidative stress and DNA damage, inflammatory reactions and excessive sympathetic responses, all of which are inhibited by vagal nerve activity. Efferent vagal activity that can be non-invasively measured by HRV (heart rate variability), derived from an ECG, is inversely related to all three basic mechanisms, to various risk factors (e.g. diabetes and dyslipidaemia) and, more broadly, to the diseases as well. Finally, vagal activity is proposed to moderate the effects of risk factors on developing such illnesses. By proposing an integrative neurobiological model of major diseases, identifying people at risk for, and treating patients with, such diseases may be done more efficiently. People with low HRV may be identified and subsequently treated by vagus nerve activation to possibly prevent or treat such illnesses. This proposed disease paradigm may have important preventative and therapeutic implications, whose clinical effects need to be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-328
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart rate variability
  • Neuromodulation
  • Vagus nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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