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Effects of Transdermal Vagal Nerve Stimulation (tVNS) on Cognitive Performance under Sleep Deprivation Stress (80JSC020T0009)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Behavior and performance
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human


Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS) has been shown to significantly improve memory and performance of cognitive tasks in both rats and humans. It has also served as an FDA approved medical treatment for epilepsy and depression for over two decades. VNS has been shown to activate regions of the brain that serve as hotspots for epilepsy, including the hippocampus and amygdala. These regions of the brain are also known to be critically important for learning and comprehension, as well as cognition generally. Likewise, the vagal nerve has direct connections with the locus coeruleus (LC). The LC is the brain’s primary norepinephrine nucleus and regulates wakefulness, arousal, attention, and is involved in learning. All of these aspects of cognition are negatively affected by fatigue. Human subjects receiving VNS have shown specific enhancements in comprehension, leading to enhanced decision making. In addition, VNS has been shown to increase neuronal plasticity in humans. In small animal models, VNS has been shown to enhance decision making compared to animals receiving sham stimulation as evidence suggests that it augments plasticity in the brain in general.

The main goal of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of tVNS to mitigate the effects of fatigue induced by sleep deprivation on aspects of cognition including attention, arousal, multitasking, and memory in populations of Department of Defense (DoD) subjects. The primary objective was to demonstrate a >20% improvement in at least one cognitive skill during sleep deprivation stress when compared to the control population. The secondary objective was to assess effects of tVNS on subjective mood.

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Task performance and analysis
Sleep Deprivation

Data Information
Data Availability
Archive is complete. Data sets are not publicly available but can be requested.
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Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Ground 05/01/2009 In Progress

Human Research Program (HRP) Human Research Roadmap (HRR) Information
Crew health and performance is critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Human Research Program (HRP) investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. Risks include physiological and performance effects from hazards such as radiation, altered gravity, and hostile environments, as well as unique challenges in medical support, human factors, and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific Elements within the program. The Human Research Roadmap is the web-based tool for communicating the IRP content.

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Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2018 HERO 80JSC018N0001-Crew Health and Performance (FLAGSHIP, OMNIBUS). Appendix A-Flagship, Appendix B-Omnibus
Hardware Items