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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Apr;103(4):2107-13. doi: 10.1152/jn.00979.2009. Epub 2010 Feb 17.

Neurophysiological correlates of nociceptive heterosynaptic long-term potentiation in humans.

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  • 1The Department of Anesthesiology, Pain and Palliative Medicine, Pain and Nociception Neuroscience Research Group, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a cellular model of synaptic plasticity and reflects an increase of synaptic strength. LTP is also present in the nociceptive system and is believed to be one of the key mechanisms involved in the manifestations of chronic pain. LTP manifested as an increased response in pain perception can be induced in humans using high-frequency electrical stimulation (HFS). The aim of this study was to induce spinal heterosynaptic LTP using HFS and investigate its heterotopic effects on event-related potentials (ERPs) to repeated nonpainful cutaneous stimuli as a possible electrophysiological cortical correlate of sensitization. Twenty-two healthy subjects were randomly assigned to one of the two experimental conditions: HFS and control stimulation. Before and after the stimulation, both conditions received heterotopic mechanical (pinprick) and paired nonpainful electrical test stimuli to quantify and confirm the effects of HFS on the behavioral level. ERPs to paired nonpainful electrical stimulation were measured simultaneously. Conditioning HFS resulted in significant heterotopic effects after 30 min, including increased perceived intensity in response to (pinprick) mechanical and paired nonpainful electrical stimulation compared with control. The paired nonpainful electrical stimuli were accompanied by significantly enhanced responses regarding the ERP N1-P2 peak-to-peak and P300 amplitude compared with control. These findings suggest that HFS is capable of producing heterosynaptic spinal LTP that can be measured not only behaviorally but also using ERPs.

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