Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVNS) Enhances Response Selection During Sequential Action.

Author: Jongkees BJ1, Immink MA2, Finisguerra A1, Colzato LS1,3,4
1Cognitive Psychology Unit and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands.
2School of Health Sciences and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
3Department of Cognitive Psychology, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.
4Institute for Sports and Sport Science, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany.
Conference/Journal: Front Psychol.
Date published: 2018 Jul 6
Other: Volume ID: 9 , Pages: 1159 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01159. eCollection 2018. , Word Count: 237

Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) is a non-invasive and safe technique that transiently enhances brain GABA and noradrenaline levels. Although tVNS has been used mainly to treat clinical disorders such as epilepsy, recent studies indicate it is also an effective tool to investigate and potentially enhance the neuromodulation of action control. Given the key roles of GABA and noradrenaline in neural plasticity and cortical excitability, we investigated whether tVNS, through a presumed increase in level of these neurotransmitters, modulates sequential behavior in terms of response selection and sequence learning components. To this end we assessed the effect of single-session tVNS in healthy young adults (N = 40) on performance on a serial reaction time task, using a single-blind, sham-controlled between-subject design. Active as compared to sham tVNS did not differ in terms of acquisition of an embedded response sequence and in terms of performance under randomized response schedules. However, active tVNS did enhance response selection processes. Specifically, the group receiving active tVNS did not exhibit inhibition of return during response reversals (i.e., when trial N requires the same response as trial N-2, e.g., 1-2-1) on trials with an embedded response sequence. This finding indicates that tVNS enhances response selection processes when selection demands are particularly high. More generally, these results add to converging evidence that tVNS enhances action control performance.

KEYWORDS: GABA; cognitive enhancement; implicit motor sequence learning; response selection; tVNS

PMID: 30034357 PMCID: PMC6043681 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01159