Advanced continuous-contact heat pulse design for efficient temporal summation of second pain (windup)

Roland Staud, Donald D Price, Roger B Fillingim
Journal of Pain 2006, 7 (8): 575-82

UNLABELLED: Temporal summation of second pain or windup (WU(SP)) can be reliably evoked in normal human subjects by repetitive heat pulses to the skin at frequencies of 0.33 Hz or more. This phenomenon is dependent on activation of peripheral C-nociceptors and central N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, resulting in windup of C-fiber-evoked discharges of dorsal horn neurons. Several investigations of heat pain summation have used Peltier devices for intermittent-contact heat pulses to the skin. This method returns the skin to an adapting temperature between each stimulus and can result in distinct first and second pain sensations. An alternative method of temporal summation consists of continuous-contact heat stimuli by computerized Peltier thermodes that can provide rapid heat pulses. Previously used continuous-contact heat pulse trains, however, seemed to lack characteristics that result in efficient WU(SP). The present study sought to obtain psychophysical evidence that reliable WU(SP) can be elicited with an advanced pulse design by using a computerized heat-foil/Peltier thermode. WU(SP) was elicited by repetitive thermal stimulation of the hands at frequencies of 0.33 Hz but not 0.25 and 0.17 Hz. WU(SP) stimuli were either adjusted to resemble the heat transfer characteristics of intermittent-contact stimulus trains, or they remained unadjusted. The estimated transmission velocity of impulses giving rise to second pain and WU(SP) was characteristic of C fibers. More pronounced second pain and efficient WU(SP) could be elicited with adjusted than with unadjusted heat pulse trains. Thus, specifically designed continuous-contact heat pulses can be used to elicit distinct second pain and robust WU(SP), thereby providing an efficient psychophysical test of this phenomenon.

PERSPECTIVE: Temporal summation testing is rapidly becoming a relevant psychophysical tool for the study of chronic pain disorders. The results of this study will allow more efficient use of currently available constant-contact thermodes for clinical and research applications.

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