Modulation of emotions associated with images of human pain using anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)

Paulo S Boggio, Soroush Zaghi, Felipe Fregni
Neuropsychologia 2009, 47 (1): 212-7
Viewing images of other humans in pain elicits a variety of responses including distress, anxiety, and a sensation that is similar to pain. We aimed to evaluate whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) could be effective in modulating the emotional aspects of pain as to further explore mechanisms of tDCS in pain relief. Twenty-three healthy subjects rated images with respect to unpleasantness and discomfort/pain (baseline), and then received stimulation with tDCS under four different conditions of stimulation: anodal tDCS of the left primary motor cortex (M1), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), occipital cortex (V1); and sham tDCS. The order of conditions was randomized and counterbalanced across subjects. During each stimulation session (after 3 min of stimulation), subjects were shown a new set of aversive images and were again asked to rate the images with respect to unpleasantness and discomfort/pain. The results showed that ratings of unpleasantness and discomfort/pain were significantly decreased during DLPFC tDCS only, as compared to baseline and sham tDCS. The other conditions of stimulation (M1 and V1 tDCS) did not result in any significant changes. These results support the notion that DLPFC is a critical area for the emotional processing of pain and also suggests that DLPFC may be a potential target of stimulation for alleviation of pain with a significant emotional-affective component. Our results also suggest that the mechanism of tDCS in modulating emotional pain involve pathways that are independent of those modulating the somatosensory perception of pain.

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