Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the primary motor cortex (M1) has an antalgic effect on acute experimental pain in healthy volunteers. Many published studies have used online stimulation (i.e., tDCS performed during painful stimulation). On the other hand, daily tDCS sessions have been proposed as a therapy for chronic pain (offline tDCS). In such cases, the therapeutic potential depends on the possible aftereffects of each tDCS session. We set out to investigate whether a single tDCS session before application of a classical experimental pain paradigm (the Cold Pressor Test, CPT) would be capable of modulating physiological measures of anxiety as well as pain perception. tDCS was applied to 30 healthy volunteers, 18 to 28 years old (mean 18.5), with the anode positioned over either the left M1 or the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (l-DLPFC), which has been linked to the affective aspects of experienced pain, including anxiety. All volunteers underwent the CPT procedure before and after a tDCS session. Real 2 mA tDCS sessions for 20 minutes were compared to sham stimulations. No significant difference was found for any variable after real tDCS sessions when compared to the sham simulations. This result suggests that effective offline tDCS for chronic pain might have different mechanisms of action. Cumulative effects, functional targeting and the unintended simultaneous stimulation of both M1 and the l-DLPFC are likely responsible for the therapeutic effects of tDCS sessions in the clinical setting.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.