Background Transcutaneous external supraorbital nerve stimulation has emerged as a treatment option for primary headache disorders, though its action mechanism is still unclear. Study aim In this randomized, sham-controlled pilot study we aimed to test the effects of a single external transcutaneous nerve stimulation session on pain perception and cortical responses induced by painful laser stimuli delivered to the right forehead and the right hand in a cohort of migraine without aura patients and healthy controls. Methods Seventeen migraine without aura patients and 21 age- and sex-matched controls were selected and randomly assigned to a real or sham external transcutaneous nerve stimulation single stimulation session. The external transcutaneous nerve stimulation was delivered with a self-adhesive electrode placed on the forehead and generating a 60 Hz pulse at 16 mA intensity for 20 minutes. For sham stimulation, we used 2 mA intensity. Laser evoked responses were recorded from 21 scalp electrodes in basal condition (T0), during external transcutaneous nerve stimulation and sham stimulation (T1), and immediately after these (T2). The laser evoked responses were analyzed by LORETA software. Results The real external transcutaneous nerve stimulation reduced the trigeminal N2P2 amplitude in migraine and control groups significantly in respect to placebo. The real stimulation was associated with lower activity in the anterior cingulate cortex under trigeminal laser stimuli. The pattern of LEP-reduced habituation was reverted by real and sham transcutaneous stimulation in migraine patients. Conclusions The present results could suggest that the external transcutaneous nerve stimulation may interfere with the threshold and the extent of trigeminal system activation, with a mechanism of potential utility in the resolution and prevention of migraine attacks.
Keywords: Supraorbital transcutaneous nerve stimulation; laser evoked potentials; migraine.