Effects of Transcranial Ultrasound Stimulation on Trigeminal Blink Reflex Excitability

Andrea Guerra, Edoardo Vicenzini, Ettore Cioffi, Donato Colella, Antonio Cannavacciuolo, Silvia Pozzi, Barbara Caccia, Giulia Paparella, Giulia Di Stefano, Alfredo Berardelli, Matteo Bologna

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Recent evidence indicates that transcranial ultrasound stimulation (TUS) modulates sensorimotor cortex excitability. However, no study has assessed possible TUS effects on the excitability of deeper brain areas, such as the brainstem. In this study, we investigated whether TUS delivered on the substantia nigra, superior colliculus, and nucleus raphe magnus modulates the excitability of trigeminal blink reflex, a reliable neurophysiological technique to assess brainstem functions in humans. The recovery cycle of the trigeminal blink reflex (interstimulus intervals of 250 and 500 ms) was tested before (T0), and 3 (T1) and 30 min (T2) after TUS. The effects of substantia nigra-TUS, superior colliculus-TUS, nucleus raphe magnus-TUS and sham-TUS were assessed in separate and randomized sessions. In the superior colliculus-TUS session, the conditioned R2 area increased at T1 compared with T0, while T2 and T0 values did not differ. Results were independent of the interstimulus intervals tested and were not related to trigeminal blink reflex baseline (T0) excitability. Conversely, the conditioned R2 area was comparable at T0, T1, and T2 in the nucleus raphe magnus-TUS and substantia nigra-TUS sessions. Our findings demonstrate that the excitability of brainstem circuits, as evaluated by testing the recovery cycle of the trigeminal blink reflex, can be increased by TUS. This result may reflect the modulation of inhibitory interneurons within the superior colliculus.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 15 2021


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