Crystal Noller and Joshua Aronson, VA Medical Center, White River Junction, White River, USA

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) as an Immunomodulatory Therapy

Funded in: 2021, 2022, 2023

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Problem: Inflammation increases secondary damage
Target: VNS reduces immune-mediated damage
Goal: Use of VNS as an immunomodulatory therapy for acute SCI

Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) results in tissue destruction from the initial trauma and secondary damage, stemming partly from the inflammatory response to injury. Decreasing acute inflammation can reduce secondary damage and thus immunomodulatory therapies have the potential to decrease this and help promote the repair process. One promising treatment is vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), a neuromodulatory therapy that has been shown to alter the immune response in rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

The goal of the project is to test whether VNS can be used as an immunomodulatory therapy for acute SCI. The researchers will utilize a mouse model of paraplegia to define whether VNS reduces immune-mediated damage after SCI and whether this reduction is functionally relevant. If successful, this novel use of VNS could enhance neuroprotection and functional recovery and advance the post-injury standard of care. Successful completion of this project will provide the basis for testing in higher-order experimental models to inform a pilot clinical trial.