Afferent somatosensory activity from the spinal cord has a profound impact on the activity of the brain. Here we investigated the effects of spinal stimulation using direct current, delivered at the thoracic level, on the spontaneous activity and on the somatosensory evoked potentials of the gracile nucleus, which is the main entry point for hindpaw somatosensory signals reaching the brain from the dorsal columns, and of the primary somatosensory cortex in anaesthetized rats. Anodal spinal direct current stimulation (sDCS) increased the spontaneous activity and decreased the amplitude of evoked responses in the gracile nucleus, whereas cathodal sDCS produced the opposite effects. At the level of the primary somatosensory cortex, the changes in spontaneous activity induced by sDCS were consistent with the effects observed in the gracile nucleus, but the changes in cortical evoked responses were more variable and state dependent. Therefore, sDCS can modulate in a polarity-specific manner the supraspinal activity of the somatosensory system, offering a versatile bottom-up neuromodulation technique that could potentially be useful in a number of clinical applications.
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