Transcutaneous spinal cord direct current stimulation inhibits the lower limb nociceptive flexion reflex in human beings

Filippo Cogiamanian, Maurizio Vergari, Elena Schiaffi, Sara Marceglia, Gianluca Ardolino, Sergio Barbieri, Alberto Priori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Aiming at developing a new, noninvasive approach to spinal cord neuromodulation, we evaluated whether transcutaneous direct current (DC) stimulation induces long-lasting changes in the central pain pathways in human beings. A double-blind crossover design was used to investigate the effects of anodal direct current (2 mA, 15 min) applied on the skin overlying the thoracic spinal cord on the lower-limb flexion reflex in a group of 11 healthy volunteers. To investigate whether transcutaneous spinal cord DC stimulation (tsDCS) acts indirectly on the nociceptive reflex by modulating excitability in mono-oligosynaptic segmental reflex pathways, we also evaluated the H-reflex size from soleus muscle after tibial nerve stimulation. In our healthy subjects, anodal thoracic tsDCS reduced the total lower-limb flexion reflex area by 40.25% immediately after stimulation (T0) and by 46.9% 30 min after stimulation offset (T30). When we analyzed the 2 lower-limb flexion reflex components (RII tactile and RIII nociceptive) separately, we found that anodal tsDCS induced a significant reduction in RIII area with a slight but not significant effect on RII area. After anodal tsDCS, the RIII area decreased by 27% at T0 and by 28% at T30. Both sham and active tsDCS left all the tested H-reflex variables unchanged. None of our subjects reported adverse effects after active stimulation. These results suggest that tsDCS holds promise as a tool that is complementary or alternative to drugs and invasive spinal cord electrical stimulation for managing pain. Thoracic transcutaneous direct current stimulation induces depression of nociceptive lower limb flexion reflex in human beings that persists after stimulation offset; this form of stimulation holds promise as a tool that is complementary or alternative to drugs and invasive spinal cord electrical stimulation for managing pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-375
Number of pages6
JournalPain
Volume152
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

Keywords

  • Direct current stimulation
  • Lower limb flexion reflex
  • Pain treatment
  • Spinal cord
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • tDCS
  • tsDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Pharmacology

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