Migraine is a prevalent neurological disease that is characterized by unpredictable episodic attacks of intense head pain. The underlying pathology involves sensitization and activation of the trigeminal system. Although non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) is recommended for the treatment of migraine, the abortive mechanism of action is not well-understood. The goal of this study was to compare the ability of nVNS and sumatriptan to inhibit trigeminal activation in two animal models of episodic migraine and to investigate the receptor mechanism of action of nVNS. Nocifensive head withdrawal response was investigated in adult male Sprague Dawley rats using von Frey filaments. To induce trigeminal nociceptor sensitization, complete Freund's adjuvant was injected in the trapezius muscle and trigeminal neurons were activated by exposure to a pungent odor or injection of the nitric oxide donor sodium nitroprusside. Some animals received nVNS or sumatriptan as treatment. Some animals were injected intracisternally with antagonists of GABAA, 5-HT3 or 5-HT7 receptors prior to nVNS since these receptors are implicated in descending modulation. While unsensitized animals exposed to the pungent odor or nitric oxide alone did not exhibit enhanced mechanical nociception, sensitized animals with neck muscle inflammation displayed increased trigeminal nocifensive responses. The enhanced nociceptive response to both stimuli was attenuated by nVNS and sumatriptan. Administration of antagonists of GABAA, 5-HT3, and 5-HT7 receptors in the upper spinal cord suppressed the anti-nocifensive effect of nVNS. Our findings suggest that nVNS inhibits trigeminal activation to a similar degree as sumatriptan in episodic migraine models via involvement of GABAergic and serotonergic signaling to enhance central descending pain modulation.


JVIC-Center for Biological and Life Sciences

Document Type




Rights Information

All Frontiers in Neurology articles from July 2012 onwards are published with open access under the CC-BY Creative Commons attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


neck inflammation, nitric oxide, pain, sensitization, sumatriptan, vagus nerve

Publication Date


Journal Title

Frontiers in Neurology