Journal Article

Changes in Sensory Hand Representation and Pain Thresholds Induced by Motor Cortex Stimulation in Humans

Bérengère Houzé, Claire Bradley, Michel Magnin and Luis Garcia-Larrea

in Cerebral Cortex

Volume 23, issue 11, pages 2667-2676
Published in print November 2013 | ISSN: 1047-3211
Published online August 2012 | e-ISSN: 1460-2199 | DOI:
Changes in Sensory Hand Representation and Pain Thresholds Induced by Motor Cortex Stimulation in Humans

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Shrinking of deafferented somatosensory regions after neural damage is thought to participate to the emergence of neuropathic pain, and pain-relieving procedures have been reported to induce the normalization of altered cortical maps. While repetitive magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of the motor cortex can lessen neuropathic pain, no evidence has been provided that this is concomitant to changes in sensory maps. Here, we assessed in healthy volunteers the ability of 2 modes of motor cortex rTMS commonly used in pain patients to induce changes in pain thresholds and plastic phenomena in the S1 cortex. Twenty minutes of high-frequency (20 Hz) rTMS significantly increased pain thresholds in the contralateral hand, and this was associated with the expansion of the cortical representation of the hand on high-density electroencephalogram source analysis. Neither of these effects were observed after sham rTMS, nor following intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS). The superiority of 20-Hz rTMS over iTBS to induce sensory plasticity may reflect its better match with intrinsic cortical motor frequencies, which oscillate at around 20 Hz. rTMS-induced changes might partly counterbalance the plasticity induced by a nerve lesion, and thus substantiate the use of rTMS to treat human pain. However, a mechanistic relation between S1 plasticity and pain-relieving effects is far from being established.

Keywords: motor cortex; pain; plasticity; rTMS; somatosensory-evoked potentials

Journal Article.  7327 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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