Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has gained recognition as a treatment for refractory epilepsies where surgical treatment is not possible. While it appears that this treatment is effective in some patients, the mechanism of action is not clearly understood. The purpose of this study was to clarify findings of other positron emission tomography and single-photon emission tomography (SPET) investigations by measuring the acute effect of VNS on patients who have normal cerebral anatomy on magnetic resonance imaging and who have not previously been exposed to VNS. We investigated six subjects (two males and four females, mean age 29.5 years, range 21-39 years) with intractable epilepsy. One patient had primary generalised epilepsy causing generalised tonic-clonic seizures; the remaining five patients had localisation-related epilepsy causing complex partial seizures. SPET imaging was performed using 250 MBq of Tc-99m-HMPAO and a four-scan paradigm – two with and two without stimulation. The stimulation began at VNS current levels of 0.25 mA and was increased according to the limit of patients’ tolerance, usually defined by coughing or discomfort. The stimulating waveform was of continuous square wave pulses of 500 mus duration at 30 Hz. Image analysis was by SPM99. Reduced perfusion during stimulation was observed in the ipsilateral brain stem, cingulate, amygdala and hippocampus and contralateral thalamus and cingulate. The study provides further evidence of the involvement of the limbic system in the action of vagal nerve stimulation.