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Assessment of nociceptive trigeminal pathways by laser-evoked potentials and laser silent periods in patients with painful temporomandibular disorders

A Romaniello, G Cruccu, G Frisardi, L Arendt-Nielsen, P Svensson
Pain 2003, 103 (1): 31-9
12749956
We assessed the trigeminal nociceptive pathways in patients with painful temporomandibular disorders (TMD) and control subjects using a CO(2)-laser stimulator which provides a predominant activation of the nociceptive system. Fifteen patients with unilateral pain were examined in accordance with the Research Diagnostic Criteria for TMD and 30 gender- and age-matched individuals were included as a control group. Laser-evoked potentials (LEPs) and laser silent periods (LSPs) after stimulation of the perioral region (V2/V3) on the painful and non-painful sides were recorded in all subjects. LEPs were evoked by low-intensity pulses (1.5 x perception threshold (PTh)) and recorded from scalp electrodes at the vertex. LSPs were evoked by high-intensity pulses (4 x PTh) and recorded bilaterally from masseter muscles with surface electromyogram (EMG) electrodes. Subjects also assessed the stimulus intensity on a 0-10 rating scale. LEPs had normal latency but smaller amplitude in TMD patients compared to the control group (P<0.001). Side-to-side comparison within patients showed that LEP amplitude was even more reduced after stimulation on the painful than the non-painful side (P<0.001). TMD patients showed a significant side-asymmetry of the pre-stimulus EMG activity, with a smaller value in the muscle on the painful side (P<0.001). LSPs were completely absent bilaterally in 12 TMD patients and unilaterally in two patients; only one patient had normal and bilateral LSPs. TMD patients perceived the laser stimulus less intense on the painful than the non-painful side (P<0.05). We found suppression of cortical responses and brainstem reflexes elicited by a predominantly nociceptive input in TMD patients. These findings are consistent with recent experimental pain studies and suggest that chronic craniofacial pain in TMD patients may be associated with a dysfunction of the trigeminal nociceptive system.

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