Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation enhanced emotional inhibitory control via increasing intrinsic prefrontal couplings

Int J Clin Health Psychol. 2024 Apr-Jun;24(2):100462. doi: 10.1016/j.ijchp.2024.100462. Epub 2024 Apr 17.


BACKGROUND: Inhibitory control represents a core executive function that critically facilitates adaptive behavior and survival in an ever-changing environment. Non-invasive transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) has been hypothesized to improve behavioral inhibition performance, however the neurocomputational mechanism of taVNS-induced neuroenhancement remains elusive.

METHOD: In the current study, we investigated the efficacy of taVNS in a sham-controlled between-subject functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) experiment with an emotional face Go/No-Go paradigm in ninety healthy young adults.

RESULTS: After a data quality check, eighty-two subjects were included in the final data analysis. Behaviorally, the taVNS improved No-Go response accuracy, together with computational modeling using Hierarchical Bayesian estimation of the Drift Diffusion Model (HDDM) indicating that it specifically reduced the information accumulation rate for Go responses, and this was negatively associated with increased accuracy of No-Go responses. On the neural level, taVNS enhanced engagement of the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) during inhibition of angry expression faces and modulated functional couplings (FCs) within the prefrontal inhibitory control network. Mediation models revealed that taVNS-induced facilitation of inhibitory control was critically mediated by a decreased information accumulation for Go responses and concomitantly enhanced neurofunctional coupling between the inferior and orbital frontal cortex.

DISCUSSION: Our findings demonstrate a potential for taVNS to improve emotional inhibitory control via reducing pre-potent responses and enhancing FCs within prefrontal inhibitory control networks, suggesting a promising therapeutic role in treating specific disorders characterized by inhibitory control deficits.

PMID:38665809 | PMC:PMC11044052 | DOI:10.1016/j.ijchp.2024.100462