Functional magnetic resonance imaging
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Background and purpose: Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) is a common and devastating chronic neuropathic pain disorder. Conventional spinal cord stimulation (SCS) applies electrical suprathreshold pulses to the spinal cord at a frequency of 40-60 Hz and relieves pain in FBSS patients. During the last decade, two major changes have emerged in the techniques of stimulating the spinal cord: paresthesia-free or subthreshold stimulation and administration of higher frequency or higher amounts of energy to the spinal cord. Despite the positive clinical results, the mechanism of action remains unclear. A functional MRI (fMRI) study was conducted to investigate the brain alterations during subthreshold and suprathreshold stimulation at different frequencies.
Methods: Ten subjects with FBSS, treated with externalized SCS, received randomly four different stimulation frequencies (4 Hz, 60 Hz, 500 Hz, and 1 kHz) during four consecutive days. At every frequency, the patient underwent sub- and suprathreshold stimulation. Cerebral activity was monitored and assessed using fMRI.
Results: Suprathreshold stimulation is generally accompanied with more activity than sub-threshold SCS. Suprathreshold SCS resulted in increased bilateral activation of the frontal cortex, thalamus, pre- and postcentral gyri, basal ganglia, cingulate gyrus, insula, thalamus, and claustrum. We observed deactivation of the bilateral parahippocampus, amygdala, precuneus, posterior cingulate gyrus, postcentral gyrus, and unilateral superior temporal gyrus.
Conclusion: Suprathreshold stimulation resulted in greater activity (both activation and deactivation) of the frontal brain regions; the sensory, limbic, and motor cortices; and the diencephalon in comparison with subthreshold stimulation. Each type of frequency at suprathreshold stimulation was characterized by an individual activation pattern.