Conscious perception of sensory signals depends in part on stimulus salience, relevance and topography. Letting aside differences at skin receptor level and afferent fibres, it is the CNS that makes a contextual selection of relevant sensory inputs. We hypothesized that subjective awareness (AW) of the time at which a sensory stimulus is perceived, a cortical function, may be differently modified by cortical stimulation, according to site and type of the stimulus. In 24 healthy volunteers, we examined the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on the assessment of AW to heat pain or weak electrical stimuli applied to either the hand palm or dorsum. We also recorded the vertex-evoked potentials to the same stimuli. The assessment was done before, during and after cathodal or anodal tDCS over the parietal cortex contralateral to the hand receiving the stimuli. At baseline, AW to thermal stimuli was significantly longer for palm than for dorsum (P < 0.01), while no differences between stimulation sites were observed for the electrical stimuli. Both cathodal and anodal tDCS caused a significant shortening of AW to thermal stimuli in the palm but not in the dorsum, and no effects on AW to electrical stimuli. Longer AW in the palm than in the dorsum may be attributable to differences in skin thickness. However, the selectivity of the effects of tDCS on AW to thermal stimulation of the glabrous skin reflects the specificity of CNS processing for site and type of sensory inputs.
Keywords: conscious awarenesss; hairy and glabrous skin; nociceptive-evoked potentials; thermoalgesic stimulation; transcranial direct current stimulation.
© 2014 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.