An in-depth analysis of the polyvagal theory in light of current findings in neuroscience and clinical research

Author: Andrea Manzotti1,2,3, Cristina Panisi4, Micol Pivotto3, Federico Vinciguerra5, Matteo Benedet3, Federica Brazzoli3, Silvia Zanni3, Alberto Comassi3, Sara Caputo3, Francesco Cerritelli2, Marco Chiera2
1 Division of Neonatology, "V. Buzzi" Children's Hospital, ASST-FBF-Sacco, Milan, Italy.
2 RAISE Lab, Clinical-Based Human Research Department, Foundation COME Collaboration, Pescara, Italy.
3 Research Department, SOMA Istituto Osteopatia Milano, Milan, Italy.
4 Scientific Institute, IRCCS Eugenio Medea, Bosisio Parini, Italy.
5 Anesthesia and Intensive Care Unit, San Giuseppe Hospital, Milan, Italy.
Conference/Journal: Dev Psychobiol
Date published: 2024 Feb 1
Other: Volume ID: 66 , Issue ID: 2 , Pages: e22450 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1002/dev.22450. , Word Count: 161

The polyvagal theory has led to the understanding of the functions of the autonomic nervous system in biological development in humans, since the vagal system, a key structure within the polyvagal theory, plays a significant role in addressing challenges of the mother-child dyad. This article aims to summarize the neurobiological aspects of the polyvagal theory, highlighting some of its strengths and limitations through the lens of new evidence emerging in several research fields-including comparative anatomy, embryology, epigenetics, psychology, and neuroscience-in the 25 years since the theory's inception. Rereading and incorporating the polyvagal idea in light of modern scientific findings helps to interpret the role of the vagus nerve through the temporal dimension (beginning with intrauterine life) and spatial dimension (due to the numerous connections of the vagus with various structures and systems) in the achievement and maintenance of biopsychosocial well-being, from the uterus to adulthood.

Keywords: HRV; autonomic nervous system; empathy; interaction parent-child; interoception; neuroception; polyvagal theory; vagus nerve.

PMID: 38388187 DOI: 10.1002/dev.22450