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Gut branches of vagus nerve essential components of brain's reward and motivation system -- ScienceDaily

"Our study reveals, for the first time, the existence of a neuronal population of 'reward neurons' amid the sensory cells of the right branch of the vagus nerve," says Ivan de Araujo, DPhil, Senior Faculty in the Department of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and senior author of the paper. "We focused on challenging the traditional view that the vagus nerve is unrelated to motivation and pleasure and we found that stimulation of the nerve, specifically its upper gut branch, is sufficient to strongly excite reward neurons lying deep inside the brain." The branches of the vagus nerve are intricately intermingled, making it extremely difficult to manipulate each organ separately. To address this challenge, the research team employed a combination of virally delivered molecular tools that allowed them to exclusively target the vagal sensory neurons connected to the stomach and upper intestine. Specifically, researchers combined different viruses carrying molecular tools in a way that allowed them to optically activate vagal neurons connected to the gut while vagal neurons leading to other organs remained mute. The approach, a state-of-the-art technique known as "optogenetics," allows investigators to use light to manipulate the activity of a prespecified set of neurons. The study revealed that the newly identified reward neurons of the right vagus nerve operate under the same constraints attributed to reward neurons of the central nervous system, meaning they link peripheral sensory cells to the previously mapped populations of reward neurons in the brain. Strikingly, neurons of the left vagus were associated with satiety, but not with reward. The research team's anatomical studies also revealed, for the first time, that the right and left vagal branches ascend asymmetrically into the central nervous system.

Depressed patients see quality of life improve with nerve stimulation: Study focuses on people not treated effectively with antidepressants -- ScienceDaily

The researchers followed 328 patients implanted with vagus nerve stimulators, many of whom also took medication. They were compared with 271 similarly resistant depressed patients receiving only treatment as usual. In assessing quality of life, the researchers evaluated 14 categories, including physical health, family relationships, ability to work and overall well-being. "On about 10 of the 14 measures, those with vagus nerve stimulators did better," Conway said. "For a person to be considered to have responded to a depression therapy, he or she needs to experience a 50 percent decline in his or her standard depression score. But we noticed, anecdotally, that some patients with stimulators reported they were feeling much better even though their scores were only dropping 34 to 40 percent." A vagus nerve stimulator is surgically implanted under the skin in the neck or chest. Stimulation of the vagus nerve originally was tested in epilepsy patients who didn't respond to other treatments. The FDA approved the device for epilepsy in 1997, but while testing the therapy, researchers noticed that some epilepsy patients who also had depression experienced fairly rapid improvements in their depression symptoms.

Parkinson's May Begin in Gut and Spread to the Brain Via the Vagus Nerve - Neuroscience News

The research has presented strong evidence that Parkinson’s disease begins in the gastrointestinal tract and spreads via the vagus nerve to the brain. Many patients have also suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms before the Parkinson’s diagnosis is made. “Patients with Parkinson’s disease are often constipated many years before they receive the diagnosis, which may be an early marker of the link between neurologic and gastroenterologic pathology related to the vagus nerve ,” says Elisabeth Svensson.

Potential way to reduce drug cravings: Vagus nerve stimulation therapy -- ScienceDaily

"They still check a couple of times each session, thinking that maybe something will happen. They go from 60 lever presses down to something like 10 per session. They clearly haven't forgotten what the lever used to do and still have cravings for the drug," Kroener said. Eventually, the light and tone (but not the drug) were reinstated, causing intense cravings in the animals and a relapse to drug-seeking, which results in more lever presses. However, the animals that experienced VNS treatment during the extinction phase of the experiment pressed the lever less frequently, by nearly 40 or 50 percent which, Kroener said, means their craving was very much reduced. "That's what you want in addiction treatment," he said. "You want to have less craving and less responsiveness to the old cues and the old environment that previously signified drug taking.

Vagal tone and human connections

Remarkably, people with higher vagal tone are more flexible across a whole host of domains — physical, mental, and social. They adapt better to their ever-shifting circumstances, albeit completely at nonconscious levels. Physically, they regulate internal bodily processes such as glucose levels and inflammation more efficiently. Mentally, they’re better able to regulate their attention and emotions, even their behaviour, and navigate interpersonal connections. By definition, then, they experience more micro-moments of love. It’s as though the agility of the conduit between their brains and hearts — as reflected in their high vagal tone — allows them to be more agile, attuned, and flexible as they navigate the ups and downs of day-to-day life and social exchanges. Indeed, this is what doctoral student Bethany Kok and I have found: compared with people with lower vagal tone, those with higher vagal tone experience more love in their daily lives, more moments of positivity resonance.

The Effects of Music Before, During and After Running | Runner's World

On average, the runners covered the 5Ks faster when they listened to music before and during. The time differences weren't considered statistically significant, but what's significant in a research paper and in a runner's log can differ. In the no-music condition, the average 5K time was just under 27:20. In the pre-run condition, it was 26:45. When the runners listened to fast music during the 5K, their average time was just over 26:00. In what's perhaps a counterintuitive result, the fastest average time, 26:00, came when the runners listened to slow music during their 5Ks.

The Vagus Nerve: A Back Door for Brain Hacking - IEEE Spectrum

Vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, got its start in the 1990s, when Cyberonics, of Houston, developed an implanted stimulator to treat particularly tough cases of epilepsy. That application was just the beginning. Researchers soon found that stimulation had the potential to treat a variety of ailments, including painful neurological conditions such as migraine headaches and fibromyalgia, inflammatory problems such as Crohn’s disease and asthma, and psychiatric ailments such as depression and obsessive- compulsive disorder.