Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation modulates the processing of interoceptive prediction error signals and their role in allostatic regulation

Author: Carlos Ventura-Bort1, Mathias Weymar1,2
1 Department of Biological Psychology and Affective Science, Faculty of Human Sciences, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.
2 Faculty of Health Sciences Brandenburg, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.
Conference/Journal: Hum Brain Mapp
Date published: 2024 Feb 15
Other: Volume ID: 45 , Issue ID: 3 , Pages: e26613 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1002/hbm.26613. , Word Count: 226

It has recently been suggested that predictive processing principles may apply to interoception, defined as the processing of hormonal, autonomic, visceral, and immunological signals. In the current study, we aimed at providing empirical evidence for the role of cardiac interoceptive prediction errors signals on allostatic adjustments, using transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) as a tool to modulate the processing of interoceptive afferents. In a within-subject design, participants performed a cardiac-related interoceptive task (heartbeat counting task) under taVNS and sham stimulation, spaced 1-week apart. We observed that taVNS, in contrast to sham stimulation, facilitated the maintenance of interoceptive accuracy levels over time (from the initial, stimulation-free, baseline block to subsequent stimulation blocks), suggesting that vagus nerve stimulation may have helped to maintain engagement to cardiac afferent signals. During the interoceptive task, taVNS compared to sham, produced higher heart-evoked potentials (HEP) amplitudes, a potential readout measure of cardiac-related prediction error processing. Further analyses revealed that the positive relation between interoceptive accuracy and allostatic adjustments-as measured by heart rate variability (HRV)-was mediated by HEP amplitudes. Providing initial support for predictive processing accounts of interoception, our results suggest that the stimulation of the vagus nerve may increase the precision with which interoceptive signals are processed, favoring their influence on allostatic adjustments.

Keywords: heart rate vairability; heart-evoked potentials; interoception; prediction error; taVNS; vagus nerve.

PMID: 38379451 PMCID: PMC10879907 DOI: 10.1002/hbm.26613