Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation on pain perception and working memory

Eur J Pain. 2012 Aug;16(7):974-82. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2011.00105.x. Epub 2012 Jan 19.


Previous studies have shown that non-invasive stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) could modulate experimentally induced pain and working memory (WM) in healthy subjects. However, the two aspects have never been assessed concomitantly. The present study was set up to investigate the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the DLPFC on thermal pain and WM in the same population of healthy volunteers. In a randomized and balanced order of different sessions separated by 1 week, 20 min of 2 mA anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS were applied to the left or right DLPFC in two separate experiments. Twelve healthy volunteers were enrolled for each stimulated hemisphere. Warm and cold detection thresholds, heat and cold pain thresholds as well as heat pain tolerance thresholds were measured before, during and following tDCS. WM was assessed by a 2-back task applied once during cortical stimulation. Anodal tDCS of the right DLPFC led to an increase of tolerance to heat pain. The 2-back task revealed fewer outliers during cathodal tDCS of the left DLPFC. The present data show an involvement of the DLPFC in the processing of pain and WM. There was no correlation between these findings, suggesting that the analgesic effects of cortical stimulation are not associated with cognitive processing. However, this conclusion is difficult to affirm because of some limitations of the study regarding the parameters of stimulation or a ceiling effect of the 2-back task for instance.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cold Temperature
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*