A new study finds that stimulation of the brain’s trigeminal nerve shows promise for treating traumatic brain injury and a range of other neurological conditions.
Researchers at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and the department of neurosurgery at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine say that trigeminal nerve stimulation (TNS) resulted in increased oxygen and blood flow to the brain in rats with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Their findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The trigeminal nerve, or fifth cranial nerve, is the largest of the 12 cranial nerves and is responsible for facial motor functions and sensations. It controls the muscles involved in chewing and is made up of three large branches — the ophthalmic, maxillary, and mandibular. The ophthalmic and maxillary nerves are purely sensory, while the mandibular nerve has both sensory and motor functions.
After a traumatic brain injury, reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain often worsen the damage in the form of a secondary injury, explained co-author Dr. Chunyan Li, assistant professor at the Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institute, in a statement issued by Hofstra Northwell.
Noting that preventing secondary injury is “vitally important” in the management of traumatic brain injury, Li said his team investigated the use of electrical trigeminal nerve stimulation for improving cerebral blood flow (CBF).
“We found that TBI rat models with TNS treatment demonstrated significantly increased systemic blood pressure, CBF, oxygen, as well as significantly reduced brain edema, blood-brain barrier disruption and lesion volume,” Li explained, in the statement.
Because no drugs have so far been shown to improve clinical outcomes for people suffering from TBI, there is a pressing need to develop new therapies, according to co-author Dr. Raj K. Narayan.
“The data from this research study provides strong evidence that TNS offers neuroprotecton following brain damage,” said Narayan. “TNS could also offer some benefit in other pathological states such as stroke or vasospasm after subarachnoid hemorrhage where the brain is at risk for ischemic and/or inflammatory damage.”