How does anodal transcranial direct current stimulation of the pain neuromatrix affect brain excitability and pain perception? A randomised, double-blind, sham-control study Academic Article uri icon


  • Integration of information between multiple cortical regions of the pain neuromatrix is thought to underpin pain modulation. Although altered processing in the primary motor (M1) and sensory (S1) cortices is implicated in separate studies, the simultaneous changes in and the relationship between these regions are unknown yet. The primary aim was to assess the effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (a-tDCS) over superficial regions of the pain neuromatrix on M1 and S1 excitability. The secondary aim was to investigate how M1 and S1 excitability changes affect sensory (STh) and pain thresholds (PTh).Twelve healthy participants received 20 min a-tDCS under five different conditions including a-tDCS of M1, a-tDCS of S1, a-tDCS of DLPFC, sham a-tDCS, and no-tDCS. Excitability of dominant M1 and S1 were measured before, immediately, and 30 minutes after intervention respectively. Moreover, STh and PTh to peripheral electrical and mechanical stimulation were evaluated. All outcome measures were assessed at three time-points of measurement by a blind rater.A-tDCS of M1 and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) significantly increased brain excitability in M1 (p < 0.05) for at least 30 min. Following application of a-tDCS over the S1, the amplitude of the N20-P25 component of SEPs increased immediately after the stimulation (p < 0.05), whilst M1 stimulation decreased it. Compared to baseline values, significant STh and PTh increase was observed after a-tDCS of all three stimulated areas. Except in M1 stimulation, there was significant PTh difference between a-tDCS and sham tDCS.a-tDCS of M1 is the best spots to enhance brain excitability than a-tDCS of S1 and DLPFC. Surprisingly, a-tDCS of M1 and S1 has diverse effects on S1 and M1 excitability. A-tDCS of M1, S1, and DLPFC increased STh and PTh levels. Given the placebo effects of a-tDCS of M1 in pain perception, our results should be interpreted with caution, particularly with respect to the behavioural aspects of pain modulation.Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials, ACTRN12614000817640,

publication date

  • 2015