Characterization of opioidergic mechanisms related to the anti-migraine effect of vagus nerve stimulation

Bing Hu, Simon Akerman, Peter J. Goadsby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a promising neuromodulation approach used in the treatment of migraine, whose therapeutic mechanism is largely unknown. Previous studies suggest that VNS's anti-nociceptive effects may, in part, involve engaging opioidergic mechanisms. We used a validated preclinical model of head pain, with good translational outcomes in migraine, acute intracranial-dural stimulation, which has responded to invasive VNS. We tested the effects of μ (MOR), δ (DOR) and κ (KOR) opioid receptor agonists in this model, and subsequently the effects of opioid receptor antagonists against VNS-mediated neuronal inhibition. MOR, DOR, and KOR agonists all inhibited dural-evoked trigeminocervical neuronal responses. Both DOR and KOR agonists also inhibited ongoing spontaneous firing of dural responsive neurons. Both DOR and KOR agonists were more efficacious than the MOR agonist in this model. We confirm the inhibitory effect of invasive VNS and demonstrate that this effect was prevented by a broad-spectrum opioid receptor antagonist, and by a highly selective DOR antagonist. Our data confirm the role of MOR in dural-trigeminovascular neurotransmission and additionally provide evidence of a role of both DOR and KOR in dural-nociceptive transmission of trigeminocervical neurons. Further, the results here provide evidence of engagement of opioidergic mechanisms in the therapeutic action of VNS in headache, specifically the DOR. These studies provide further support for the important role of the DOR in headache mechanisms, and as a potential therapeutic target. The data begin to dissect the mode of action of the analgesic effects of VNS in the treatment of primary headache disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108375
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • Migraine
  • Opioid
  • Trigeminovascular
  • Vagus nerve stimulation
  • δ-Opioid receptor
  • κ-Opioid receptor


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