Public Release: 

New non-invasive form of vagus nerve stimulation works to treat depression

Reports new study in Biological Psychiatry


Philadelphia, PA, February 4, 2016 - Depression can be a devastating and unremitting problem.

Researchers of a new study published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry report successful reduction of depressive symptoms in patients using a novel non-invasive method of vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS.

Despite the growing number of medications and neurostimulation approaches available, residual symptoms may be both distressing and disabling. Traditional vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a neurostimulation technique that has been used to alleviate treatment-resistant symptoms of depression. Clinical trials suggested that it produced modest benefit that emerged over long periods of time. However, it was also costly and required risky neurosurgery to implant the vagal nerve stimulators.

In this new study, Drs. Peijing Rong and Jiliang Fang at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, collaborating with Jian Kong's research team at Harvard Medical School, investigated a new, modified form of VNS called transcutaneous VNS, which instead stimulates the vagus nerve through electrodes clipped onto the ear, similar to how headphones rest inside the ear.

Patients with major depressive disorder who volunteered for the study received either transcutaneous VNS or sham (placebo) VNS and underwent a functional neuroimaging scan both before and after one month of treatment.

Compared to patients who received sham VNS, the patients who received real VNS showed significant improvement of their depressive symptoms. This improvement was associated with increased functional connectivity between the default mode network and precuneus and orbital prefrontal cortex, an important network in the brain known to be altered in depression.

"The transcutaneous approach may make this treatment for depression more accessible to people with depression, providing it proves to retain the efficacy of the more direct form of vagal nerve stimulation," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Rong added, "This non-invasive, safe and low cost method of depression treatment can significantly reduce the severity of depression in patients and shows promise for future use."


The article is "Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation Modulates Default Mode Network in Major Depressive Disorder" by Jiliang Fang, Peijing Rong, Yang Hong, Yangyang Fan, Jun Liu, Honghong Wang, Guolei Zhang, Xiaoyan Chen, Shan Shi, Liping Wang, Rupeng Liu, Jiwon Hwang, Zhengjie Li, Jing Tao, Yang Wang, Bing Zhu, and Jian Kong (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.03.025). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 79, Issue 4 (February 15, 2016), published by Elsevier.

Notes for editors

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Rhiannon Bugno at +1 214 648 0880 or Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Dr. Peijing Rong at +86 10 64089302 or, or Dr. Jiliang Fang at +86 136 833 38202 or

The authors' affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry

Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 6th out of 140 Psychiatry titles and 10th out of 252 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2014 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 10.255.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions -- among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey -- and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 33,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group plc, a world-leading provider of information solutions for professional customers across industries.

Media contact

Rhiannon Bugno
Editorial Office
+1 214 648 0880

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