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High-Definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Enhances Conditioned Pain Modulation in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomized Trial

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Abstract

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a form of brain stimulation that allows for the selective increase or decrease in the cortical excitability of a targeted region. When applied over the motor cortex it has been shown to induce changes in cortical and subcortical brain regions involved in descending pain inhibition or conditioned pain modulation (CPM). The aim of the current study was to assess whether activation of pain inhibitory pathways via tDCS of the motor cortex facilitates the CPM response. Elevated CPM after active tDCS of the motor cortex was hypothesized. Thirty healthy male volunteers attended 2 experimental sessions separated by 7 days. Both sessions consisted of CPM assessment after 20 minutes of either active or sham (placebo) tDCS over the motor cortex. CPM capacity was assessed via the pain-inhibits-pain protocol; CPM responses were shown to be elevated after active compared with sham tDCS. This report concludes that tDCS of the motor cortex enhances the CPM response in healthy men. This finding supports the potential utility of tDCS interventions in clinical pain treatment. Perspective The use of noninvasive brain stimulation over the motor cortex was shown to enhance the CPM effect. This finding supports the use of tDCS in the treatment of chronic pain, particularly in sufferers exhibiting maladaptive CPM.

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Flood, A., Waddington, G., & Cathcart, S. (2016). High-Definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Enhances Conditioned Pain Modulation in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Pain, 17(5), 600–605. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2016.01.472

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