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May, Elisabeth S.; Hohn, Vanessa D.; Nickel, Moritz M.; Tiemann, Laura; Gil Ávila, Cristina; Heitmann, Henrik; Sauseng, Paul; Ploner, Markus (17. June 2020): Modulating Brain Rhythms of Pain using Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS)? A Sham-controlled Study in Healthy Human Participants. In: bioRxiv
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Pain protects the body. However, pain can also occur for longer periods without serving protective functions. Such chronic pain conditions are difficult to treat. Thus, a better understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms and new approaches for the treatment of pain are urgently needed. Here, we investigated a causal role of oscillatory brain activity for pain and explored the potential of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) as a new treatment approach for pain. To this end, we investigated whether tACS can modulate pain and pain-related autonomic activity in 29 healthy human participants using a tonic heat pain paradigm as an experimental model of chronic pain. In 6 recording sessions, participants received tACS over prefrontal or somatosensory cortices at alpha or gamma frequencies or sham tACS. During tACS, pain ratings and autonomic responses were collected. TACS did not modulate pain intensity, the stability of pain ratings or the translation of the noxious stimulus into pain. Likewise, tACS did not change autonomic responses. Bayesian statistics further indicated a lack of tACS effects in most conditions. The only exception was alpha tACS over somatosensory cortex where evidence for tACS effects was inconclusive. Taken together, the present study did not find significant tACS effects on tonic experimental pain in healthy human participants. However, considering the conceptual plausibility of using tACS to modulate pain and the urgent need for novel pain treatments, further tACS studies are warranted. Based on the present findings, such studies might apply refined stimulation protocols targeting alpha oscillations in somatosensory cortices.