Influence of transcranial direct current stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex on pain related emotions: a study using electroencephalographic power spectrum analysis

Neurosci Lett. 2012 Mar 14;512(1):12-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2012.01.037. Epub 2012 Feb 4.


Pain is a multidimensional experience with sensory-discriminative, cognitive-evaluative and affective-motivational components. Emotional factors such as unpleasantness or anxiety are known to have influence on pain in humans. The aim of this single-blinded, cross over study was to evaluate the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on emotional aspects of pain in pain alleviation. Fifteen subjects (5 females, 10 males) volunteered to participate in this study. In an oddball paradigm, three categories of 20 pictures (unpleasant, neutral, and pleasant) served as rare target pictures from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). The power of the delta (1-4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), alpha (8-12 Hz), beta (12-25 Hz), and gamma (30-40 Hz) frequency bands in the three categories were measured using electroencephalography during an oddball paradigm at pre- and post-anodal or sham tDCS above the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Results showed that the beta band power was significantly increased, and the alpha band power was significantly decreased during unpleasant pictures after anodal tDCS compared with sham tDCS. Furthermore, regarding unpleasant pictures, subjective reports of Self Assessment Manikin (SAM) for emotional valence after anodal tDCS showed a significant decrease of unpleasantness. Therefore, emotional aspects of pain may be effectively alleviated by tDCS of the left DLPFC as was shown not only by subjective evaluation, but also by objective observation of cerebral neural activity. This processing may be mediated by facilitation of the descending pain inhibitory system through enhancing neural activity of the left DLPFC.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult