Effect of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on central nervous system amplification of somatosensory input

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The effect of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on the central nervous system amplification process was investigated focusing on the dorsal column-medial lemniscal pathway, because the dorsal column nucleus was recently shown to receive multiple sources of sensory information, including pain. Short latency somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs) were recorded in ten healthy normal volunteers. Amplitude changes in each SSEP component (the N9 brachial plexus potential, the P14 potential that originates from the cervicomedullary junction, spinal N13/P13 generated by the cervical dorsal horn and the cortical N20/P25 potential) were studied at stimulus strenghts ranging from the threshold (40% maximum stimulus) to 2.5 times the threshold (maximum). The findings suggest that sensory amplification begins at the P14 generator source near the cuneate nucleus. There was no statistically significant difference in sensory amplification between P14 and cortical N20/P25, indicating that the cuneate nucleus is the main site of the central amplifying process. When TENS was applied to the palm distal to the median nerve stimulation used for SSEP, cortical N20/P25 amplification disappeared, evidence that TENS suppresses the central amplification phenomenon, most probably at the level of the cuneate nucleus.

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