Cortical neurostimulation for neuropathic pain: state of the art and perspectives

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The treatment of neuropathic pain by neuromodulation is an objective for more than 40 years in modern clinical practice. With respect to spinal cord and deep brain structures, the cerebral cortex is the most recently evaluated target of invasive neuromodulation therapy for pain. In the early 90s, the first successes of invasive epidural motor cortex stimulation (EMCS) were published. A few years later was developed repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a noninvasive stimulation technique. Then, electrical transcranial stimulation returned valid and is currently in full development, with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Regarding transcranial approaches, the main studied and validated target was still the motor cortex, but other cortical targets are under investigation. The mechanisms of action of these techniques share similarities, especially between EMCS and rTMS, but they also have differences that could justify specific indications and applications. It is therefore important to know the principles and to assess the merit of these techniques on the basis of a rigorous assessment of the results, to avoid fad. Various types of chronic neuropathic pain syndromes can be significantly relieved by EMCS or repeated daily sessions of high-frequency (5-20 Hz) rTMS or anodal tDCS over weeks, at least when pain is lateralized and stimulation is applied to the motor cortex contralateral to pain side. However, cortical stimulation therapy remains to be optimized, especially by improving EMCS electrode design, rTMS targeting, or tDCS montage, to reduce the rate of nonresponders, who do not experience clinically relevant effects of these techniques.

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