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Selective Unilateral Autonomic Activation: Implications for Psychiatry

  • David S. Shannahoff-Khalsa

Research advances have led to three methods for selectively activating one half of the autonomic nervous system in humans.The first method is an ancient yogic technique called unilateral forced nostril breathing (UFNB) that employs forced breathing through only one nostril while closing off the other. The second method works by stimulation of an autonomic reflex point on the fifth intercostal space near the axilla. The most recent method employs unilateral vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) via the mid-inferior cervical branch and requires surgical implantation of a wire and pacemaker. UFNB is non-invasive and seems to selectively activate the ipsilateral branch of the sympathetic nervous system with a possible compensation effect leading to contralateral VNS. UFNB and VNS have been employed to treat psychiatric disorders. While UFNB has been studied for its potential effects on the endogenous ultradian rhythms of the autonomic and central nervous system, and their tightly coupled correlates, VNS has yet to be studied in this regard. This article reviews these three methods and discusses their similarities, putative mechanisms, their studied effects on the endogenous autonomic nervous system and central nervous system rhythms, and their implications for the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Corresponding author
Please direct all correspondence to: David S. Shannahoff-Khalsa, Institute for Nonlinear Science (# 0402), University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA, 92093-0402; Tel: 858-534-0154, Fax: 858-534-7664; E-mail:, Web site:
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