We studied physiological and sensory effects of left cervical vagal stimulation in six adult patients receiving this stimulation as adjunctive therapy for intractable epilepsy. Stimulus strength varied among subjects from 0.1 to 2.1 microCoulomb (microC) per pulse, delivered in trains of 30-45 s at frequencies from 20 to 30 Hz; these stimulation parameters were standard in a North American study. The stimulation produced no systematic changes in ECG, arterial pressure, breathing frequency tidal volume or end-expiratory volume. Five subjects experienced hoarseness during stimulation. Three subjects with high stimulus strength (0.9-2.1 microC) recalled shortness of breath during stimulation when exercising; these sensations were seldom present during stimulation at rest. No subjects reported the thoracic burning sensation or cough previously reported with chemical stimulation of pulmonary C fibers. Four of six subjects (all those receiving stimuli at or above 0.6 microC) experienced a substantial reduction in monthly seizure occurrence at the settings used in our studies. Although animal models of epilepsy suggest that C fibers are the most important fibers mediating the anti-seizure effect of vagal stimulation, our present findings suggest that the therapeutic stimulus activated A fibers (evidenced by laryngeal effects) but was not strong enough to activate B or C fibers.