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J Pain Res. 2017 Nov 15;10:2675-2685. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S145783. eCollection 2017.

Cortical mapping of painful electrical stimulation by quantitative electroencephalography: unraveling the time-frequency-channel domain.

Goudman L1,2,3, Laton J4, Brouns R4,5, Nagels G4,5,6, Huysmans E2,3,7,8, Buyl R7,9, Ickmans K2,3,10, Nijs J2,3,10, Moens M1,2,4,11.

Author information

Department of Neurosurgery, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel.
Pain in Motion International Research Group.
Department of Physiotherapy, Human Physiology and Anatomy, Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy.
Center for Neurosciences (C4N), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).
Department of Neurology, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel.
National MS Center.
Department of Public Health (GEWE), Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Interuniversity Centre for Health Economics Research (I-CHER).
Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Department of Physical Medicine and Physiotherapy.
Department of Radiology, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.


The goal of this study was to capture the electroencephalographic signature of experimentally induced pain and pain-modulating mechanisms after painful peripheral electrical stimulation to determine one or a selected group of electrodes at a specific time point with a specific frequency range. In the first experiment, ten healthy participants were exposed to stimulation of the right median nerve while registering brain activity using 32-channel electroencephalography. Electrical stimulations were organized in four blocks of 20 stimuli with four intensities - 100%, 120%, 140%, and 160% - of the electrical pain threshold. In the second experiment, 15 healthy participants received electrical stimulation on the dominant median nerve before and during the application of a second painful stimulus. Raw data were converted into the time-frequency domain by applying a continuous wavelet transform. Separated domain information was extracted by calculating Parafac models. The results demonstrated that it is possible to capture a reproducible cortical neural response after painful electrical stimulation, more specifically at 250 milliseconds poststimulus, at the midline electrodes Cz and FCz with predominant δ-oscillations. The signature of the top-down nociceptive inhibitory mechanisms is δ-activity at 235 ms poststimulus at the prefrontal electrodes. This study presents a methodology to overcome the a priori determination of the regions of interest to analyze the brain response after painful electrical stimulation.


Parafac model; conditioned pain modulation; electroencephalography; painful electrical stimulation

Conflict of interest statement

Disclosure The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.

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