VNS & Cognitive Function - Neuvana





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What is VNS?

The vagus nerve is one of 12 pairs of cranial nerves that originate in the brain and is part of the autonomic nervous system. The nerve, when stimulated, activates neurons in the locus coeruleus — the primary source of the neuromodulator norepinephrine in the brain. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is the use of a device to send gentle electrical signals to the brain and activate the vagus nerve.

VNS increases the following neurotransmitters, which are important for brain plasticity, learning, and memory(1,2,3,4):

Norepinephrine from the locus coeruleus

Acetylcholine from the nucleus basalis of Meynert




Norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are important for executive function.

How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Can Boost Cognitive Function, Learning, and Mood

Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) improves cognitive function and mood. It sends a direct signal to the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) in the brainstem, stimulating the locus coeruleus (LC), the nucleus basalis (NB), anddorsal raphe nucleus (DRN)(1,2,3). Connections to higher brain centers are stimulated from here.(3,4,5)

Advantages of Transcutaneous Auricular VNS

Existing VNS devices require surgical implantation, so they are at a higher risk of causing adverse effects due to the invasiveness and contact with critical nerves, blood vessels, and organs in the neck. Stimulation of the vagus nerve through its auricular branch is safer, less invasive, and better tolerated.  


Xen is a consumer taVNS for home use, making it possible to stimulate the vagus nerve regularly. With customizable waveforms and treatment duration, Xen makes it possible to experiment with various stimulation protocols for different cognitive enhancement goals.

Cognitive Aspects Boosted by taVNS

The vagus nerve tone is associated with wellbeing, mood, and emotional regulation. (2, 5, 9-16).

Executive function

Working memory and memory retention

Adult learning, including language-learning capacity


Divergent and element creativity, which involves the ability to consider multiple ideas

Conflict adaptation

Response inhibition

Emotional regulation

Clinical Evidence Supporting Cognitive Function and Learning Improvements by taVNS

Executive Function and Accuracy

 A 2021 meta-analysis examined 19 taVNS studies with 718 total participants, predominantly females between 18 - 30 years old.

All included studies used 25 Hz frequency and a single application session lasting 5 - 80 min, although VNS at higher frequencies has demonstrated better improvements in executive function.

This meta-analysis found small but significant improvements in executive function and executive function accuracy(2).

Language Learning

37 native English speakers underwent five training sessions over five days to learn novel letter sounds in Hebrew. taVNS improved performance on speed, as well as decoding, compared to non-taVNS groups.(1)

Emotional Regulation

A study of 83 healthy adults compared cognitive reappraisal (cognitive emotion regulation) after a single active taVNS session compared to a sham one. The taVNS cohort had significantly better cognitive-emotional regulation and less intense responses to emotion-eliciting pictures.(15)

Spatial Working Memory

A study of 48 healthy students revealed “robust” improvements in spatial working memory in the group receiving offline (between retest period) taVNS.(4)

Improved Memory Recall

10 adult patients with cervical VNS inserted for epilepsy treatment showed significant improvements in memory retention in a double study comparing stimulation vs. sham stimulation following reading a word list and a subsequent recall test.(6)

In conclusion, taVNS has been studied and found to be a well-tolerated and effective means of improving various aspects of cognitive functions. Home use presents a new avenue for boosting cognitive function and learning, especially in users with cognitive performance-enhancing goals.

See references here