EEG responses to tonic heat pain

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Abstract

The aim of the present study was to characterize the EEG response pattern specific for tonic pain which is an experimental pain model resembling clinical pain more closely than phasic pain. Tonic experimental pain was produced by a series of heat pulses 1°C above pain threshold over 10 min. A series of heat pulses 0.3°C below pain threshold and a constant temperature of 37°C served as non-painful heat control and as baseline condition, respectively. The level of attention was experimentally manipulated by instruction and by a distraction task. Twenty male, pain-free subjects had to rate the sensation intensity and sensation unpleasantness during thermal stimulation. Furthermore, a German version of the McGill Pain Questionnaire was to be filled out after tonic painful heat stimulation. The EEG was recorded via 10 leads according to 10/20 convention. Power density was calculated for the usual frequency bands. The ratings showed that tonic painful heat was experienced clearly distinct from tonic non-painful heat. An EEG response pattern emerged characterized by a rather generalized increased delta2 activity, a left-biased fronto-temporally diminished theta activity, a fronto-temporal decrease in the alpha1 activity and a left-sided temporal increase in the beta1 activity. This observation agrees well with the findings of others. However, there was no evidence in our data that these EEG changes are specific to tonic heat pain as opposed to changes observed during tonic non-painful heat stimulation. Accordingly, the repeatedly reported EEG patterns are also likely to be produced by other forms of strong somatosensory stimuli and to be not specific for pain.

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