Nociceptive steady-state evoked potentials elicited by rapid periodic thermal stimulation of cutaneous nociceptors

J Neurosci. 2011 Apr 20;31(16):6079-87. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3977-10.2011.


The periodic presentation of a sensory stimulus induces, at certain frequencies of stimulation, a sustained electroencephalographic response known as steady-state evoked potential (SS-EP). In the somatosensory, visual, and auditory modalities, SS-EPs are considered to constitute an electrophysiological correlate of cortical sensory networks resonating at the frequency of stimulation. In the present study, we describe and characterize, for the first time, SS-EPs elicited by the selective activation of skin nociceptors in humans. The stimulation consisted of 2.3-s-long trains of 16 identical infrared laser pulses (frequency, 7 Hz), applied to the dorsum of the left and right hand and foot. Two different stimulation energies were used. The low energy activated only C-nociceptors, whereas the high energy activated both Aδ- and C-nociceptors. Innocuous electrical stimulation of large-diameter Aβ-fibers involved in the perception of touch and vibration was used as control. The high-energy nociceptive stimulus elicited a consistent SS-EP, related to the activation of Aδ-nociceptors. Regardless of stimulus location, the scalp topography of this response was maximal at the vertex. This was noticeably different from the scalp topography of the SS-EPs elicited by innocuous vibrotactile stimulation, which displayed a clear maximum over the parietal region contralateral to the stimulated side. Therefore, we hypothesize that the SS-EPs elicited by the rapid periodic thermal activation of nociceptors may reflect the activation of a network that is preferentially involved in processing nociceptive input and may thus provide some important insight into the cortical processes generating painful percepts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nociceptors / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation