Inhibitory effects of heterotopic noxious counter-stimulation on perception and brain activity related to Aβ-fibre activation

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Abstract

Heterotopic noxious counter-stimulation (HNCS) inhibits pain and pain processes through cerebral and cerebrospinal mechanisms. However, it is unclear whether HNCS inhibits non-nociceptive processes, which needs to be clarified for a better understanding of HNCS analgesia. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of HNCS on perception and scalp somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs). Seventeen healthy volunteers participated in two counter-balanced sessions, including non-nociceptive (selective Aβ-fibre activation) or nociceptive electrical stimulation, combined with HNCS. HNCS was produced by a 20-min cold pressor test (left hand) adjusted individually to produce moderate pain (mean ± SEM: 42.5 ± 5.3 on a 0–100 scale, where 0 is no pain and 100 the worst pain imaginable). Non-nociceptive electrical stimulation was adjusted individually at 80% of pain threshold and produced a tactile sensation in every subject. Nociceptive electrical stimulation was adjusted individually at 120% of RIII-reflex threshold and produced moderate pain (45.3 ± 4.5). Shock sensation was significantly decreased by HNCS compared with baseline for non-nociceptive (P< 0.001) and nociceptive (P< 0.001) stimulation. SEP peak-to-peak amplitude at Cz was significantly decreased by HNCS for non-nociceptive (P< 0.01) and nociceptive (P< 0.05) stimulation. These results indicate that perception and brain activity related to Aβ-fibre activation are inhibited by HNCS. The mechanisms of this effect remain to be investigated to clarify whether it involves inhibition of spinal wide-dynamic-range neurons by diffuse noxious inhibitory controls, supraspinal processes or both.

Heterotopic noxious counter-stimulation (HNCS) inhibits pain perception by the application of two competing noxious stimuli. Here we show that HNCS also inhibits tactile sensation and scalp somatosensory evoked potentials induced by selective Aβ-fiber activation. These effects may involve descending inhibition of spinal wide-dynamic-range neurons but this remains to be clarified. The present results imply that hypoalgesic effects of HNCS may include inhibition of non-nociceptive activity when the test stimulus does not activate nociceptive fibers selectively.

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