Tonic pain and continuous EEG: Prediction of subjective pain perception by alpha-1 power during stimulation and at rest

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Objective: Pain neurophysiology has been chiefly characterized via event-related potentials (ERPs), which are exerted using brief, phase-locked noxious stimuli. Striving for objectively characterizing clinical pain states using more natural, prolonged stimuli, tonic pain has been recently associated with the individual peak frequency of alpha oscillations. This finding encouraged us to explore whether alpha power, reflecting the magnitude of the synchronized activity within this frequency range, will demonstrate a corresponding relationship with subjective perception of tonic pain. Methods: Five-minute-long continuous EEG was recorded in 18 healthy volunteers under: (i) resting-state; (ii) innocuous temperature; and (iii) psychophysically-anchored noxious temperature. Numerical pain scores (NPSs) collected during the application of tonic noxious stimuli were tested for correlation with alpha-1 and alpha-2 power. Results: NPSs and alpha power remained stable throughout the recording conditions (Ps ≥ 0.381). In the noxious condition, alpha-1 power obtained at the bilateral temporal scalp was negatively correlated with NPSs (Ps ≤ 0.04). Additionally, resting-state alpha-1 power recorded at the bilateral temporal scalp was negatively correlated with NPSs reported during the noxious condition (Ps ≤ 0.038). Conclusions: Current findings suggest alpha-1 power may serve as a direct, objective and experimentally stable measure of subjective perception of tonic pain. Furthermore, resting-state alpha-1 power might reflect individuals' inherent tonic pain responsiveness. Significance: The relevance of alpha-1 power to tonic pain perception may deepen the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the processing of prolonged noxious stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-612
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


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