The Effect of Clinically Controllable Factors on Neural Activation During Dorsal Root Ganglion Stimulation

Neuromodulation. 2021 Jun;24(4):655-671. doi: 10.1111/ner.13211. Epub 2020 Jun 24.


Objective: Dorsal root ganglion stimulation (DRGS) is an effective therapy for chronic pain, though its mechanisms of action are unknown. Currently, we do not understand how clinically controllable parameters (e.g., electrode position, stimulus pulse width) affect the direct neural response to DRGS. Therefore, the goal of this study was to utilize a computational modeling approach to characterize how varying clinically controllable parameters changed neural activation profiles during DRGS.

Materials and methods: We coupled a finite element model of a human L5 DRG to multicompartment models of primary sensory neurons (i.e., Aα-, Aβ-, Aδ-, and C-neurons). We calculated the stimulation amplitudes necessary to elicit one or more action potentials in each neuron, and examined how neural activation profiles were affected by varying clinically controllable parameters.

Results: In general, DRGS predominantly activated large myelinated Aα- and Aβ-neurons. Shifting the electrode more than 2 mm away from the ganglion abolished most DRGS-induced neural activation. Increasing the stimulus pulse width to 500 μs or greater increased the number of activated Aδ-neurons, while shorter pulse widths typically only activated Aα- and Aβ-neurons. Placing a cathode near a nerve root, or an anode near the ganglion body, maximized Aβ-mechanoreceptor activation. Guarded active contact configurations did not activate more Aβ-mechanoreceptors than conventional bipolar configurations.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that DRGS applied with stimulation parameters within typical clinical ranges predominantly activates Aβ-mechanoreceptors. In general, varying clinically controllable parameters affects the number of Aβ-mechanoreceptors activated, although longer pulse widths can increase Aδ-neuron activation. Our data support several Neuromodulation Appropriateness Consensus Committee guidelines on the clinical implementation of DRGS.

Keywords: Chronic pain; computer simulation; dorsal root ganglion; dorsal roots; electric stimulation; spinal cord stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Chronic Pain*
  • Ganglia, Spinal*
  • Humans
  • Neurons