Safety and feasibility of transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation in mild cognitive impairment: VINCI-AD study protocol


Abstract Background Over 55 million adults are living with dementia globally, which is projected to reach 157 million by 2050. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a syndrome of memory impairment with intact activities of daily living, may precede dementia by several years. Around 5–15% of individuals with MCI convert to dementia annually. Novel treatments which delay progression of MCI to dementia are urgently needed. Transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique that targets the vagus nerve. Importantly, tVNS has been shown to improve cognition in healthy volunteers, but has not been extensively examined as a potential therapeutic approach in MCI. VINCI-AD will examine the safety and feasibility of tVNS in older adults with MCI. Design VINCI-AD is an investigator-led, single-site, single-blind, sham-controlled crossover pilot study which aims to assess the safety and feasibility of tVNS in 40 participants with amnestic MCI. All participants will attend for three consecutive study visits during which they will be randomised to receive no stimulation (baseline), active tVNS stimulation (stimulation at cymba conchae of left ear) or sham tVNS stimulation (at earlobe). Safety will be primarily assessed by ascertainment of adverse events. Further safety assessment will examine the impact of acute tVNS on subjective (orthostatic symptoms), peripheral (finometry-based blood pressure) and central (assessed via Near Infrared Spectroscopy [NIRS]) haemodynamic responses to active stand. Feasibility will be determined using a custom-designed occupational assessment of device usability. Exploratory secondary analysis in VINCI-AD will examine the potential impact of acute tVNS on associative memory, spatial memory and inhibitory control to inform sample size estimates for future trials of tVNS in older adults with MCI. Discussion VINCI-AD will report on the safety (adverse events/haemodynamic responses to active stand) and feasibility of tVNS as a potential therapeutic option in MCI. Detailed reporting of study eligibility and completion rates will be reported. Exploratory analysis will examine the potential cognitive benefits of acute tVNS on cognitive function in MCI to report potential effect sizes that may inform future clinical trials in this cohort. Trial registration . Trial Registration Number NCT05514756 (24th August 2022 for this protocol, version 1.0.)

BMC Neurology