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Spotlight on cervical vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of primary headache disorders: a review

Authors Lendvai IS, Maier A, Scheele D, Hurlemann R, Kinfe TM

Received 14 February 2018

Accepted for publication 5 May 2018

Published 27 August 2018 Volume 2018:11 Pages 1613—1625


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr E Alfonso Romero-Sandoval

Ilana S Lendvai,1,2 Ayline Maier,1,2 Dirk Scheele,1,2 Rene Hurlemann,1,2 Thomas M Kinfe1,2

1Department of Psychiatry, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University, Bonn, Germany; 2Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology, University Hospital Bonn, Rheinische Friedrich‑Wilhelms University, Bonn, Germany

Objectives: Cervical noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) emerged as an adjunctive neuromodulation approach for primary headache disorders with limited responsiveness to pharmacologic and behavioral treatment. This narrative review evaluates the safety and efficacy of invasive and noninvasive peripheral nerve stimulation of the cervical branch of the vagal nerve (afferent properties) for primary headache disorders (episodic/chronic migraine [EM/CM] and cluster headache [ECH/CCH]) and provides a brief summary of the preclinical data on the possible mechanism of action of cervical vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and trigemino-nociceptive head pain transmission.
Materials and methods: A systematic search of published data was performed in PubMed for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and prospective cohort clinical studies assessing the efficacy/safety and cost-effectiveness of cervical VNS in primary headache disorders and related preclinical studies.
Results: Three RCTs were identified for ECH/CCH (ACT-1, ACT-2 and PREVA), one RCT for migraine (EVENT) and several prospective cohort studies and retrospective analyses for both headache disorders. In ACT-1, a significantly higher response rate, a higher pain-free rate and a decrease in mean attack duration were found in nVNS-treated ECH/CCH patients compared to sham stimulation. ACT-2 confirmed these findings (e.g., significantly higher pain-free attacks, pain severity decline and increased responder-rate [defined as ≥50% reduction]). The PREVA study demonstrated the superiority of adjunctive nVNS to standard care alone and observed a significantly higher attack reduction (p=0.02) and responder rate (defined as ≥50% reduction). For CM, the EVENT study assessed a significantly higher frequency of decline in the open-label phase. Mostly transient mild/moderate adverse events were recorded, and no severe device-related adverse events occurred.
Conclusion: Cervical nVNS represents a novel, safe and efficient adjunctive treatment option for primary headache disorders. In particular, preliminary observations suggest enhanced nVNS responsiveness in favor of episodic subtypes (EM and ECH). However, preclinical studies are urgently warranted to dissect the mechanism of action.

Keywords: cervical vagus nerve stimulation, migraine, cluster headache, safety/efficacy, trigemino-nociceptive signaling, neuroinflammation

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