Modulation of Pain with Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Controls
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CitationReidler, Jay S. 2014. Modulation of Pain with Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Controls. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Medical School.
AbstractBackground: While pain is essential for physiological functioning, chronic or pathologic pain is responsible for a major burden of disease in society. Novel approaches to treating acute and chronic pain have employed neuromodulatory tools to target the central and peripheral neural structures that mediate pain. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), for example, is a safe, non-invasive brain stimulation technique that has been shown in preliminary studies to reduce chronic pain when applied to the primary motor cortex. In contrast to this exogenous neuromodulatory approach, diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC) refers to endogenous pain regulatory mechanisms that decrease pain following introduction of heterotopic noxious stimuli. This thesis explores whether combining these exogenous and endogenous pain modulation approaches synergistically increases the threshold at which pain is perceived.
Methods: We conducted a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial with a crossover design to investigate the effects of tDCS and DNIC on pain thresholds in 15 healthy human subjects. Pain thresholds were assessed prior to and following administration of active tDCS, sham tDCS, cold-water-induced DNIC, and combined active tDCS and DNIC. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we examined whether baseline concentrations of brain metabolites such as N-acetylaspartate in pain-related regions of interest were associated with responses to the varying neuromodulatory conditions.
Results: Pain thresholds significantly increased following both active tDCS and the DNIC paradigm. These modulatory approaches appeared to have additive effects when combined. Pain threshold increases after active tDCS were positively correlated with baseline levels of N-acetylaspartate, a marker of good neural function, in the anterior cingulate cortex and negatively correlated with baseline levels of glutamine in the thalamus.
Conclusions: Combining endogenous pain regulatory mechanisms with exogenous stimulation of the motor cortex can more effectively increase pain thresholds in healthy humans. Future studies should examine whether existing pain therapies may be enhanced with noninvasive brain stimulation and activation of DNIC. They should also assess whether brain metabolite levels can be utilized to predict clinical response to therapeutic interventions.
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