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ObjectivesTonic spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is accompanied by paresthesia in affected body regions. Comparatively, the absence of paresthesia with burst SCS suggests different involvement of the dorsal column system conveying afferent impulses from low-threshold mechanoreceptors. This study evaluated cortical activation changes during gentle brushing of a pain-free leg during four SCS pulse intensities to assess the effect of intensity on recruitment of dorsal column system fibers during burst and tonic SCS.Materials and methodsTwenty patients using SCS (11 burst, nine tonic) for neuropathic leg pain participated. Brushing was administered to a pain-free area of the leg during four SCS intensities: therapeutic (100%), medium (66%), low (33%), and no stimulation. Whole-brain electroencephalography was continuously recorded. Changes in spectral power during brushing were evaluated using the event-related desynchronization (ERD) method in theta (4-7 Hz), alpha (8-13 Hz), and beta (16-24 Hz) frequency bands.ResultsBrushing was accompanied by a suppression of cortical oscillations in the range 4-24 Hz. Stronger intensities of burst and tonic SCS led to less suppression of 4-7 Hz and 8-13 Hz bands in parietal electrodes, and in central electrodes in the 16-24 Hz band, with the strongest, statistically significant suppression at medium intensity. Tonic SCS showed a stronger reduction in 4-7 Hz oscillations over right sensorimotor electrodes, and over right frontal and left sensorimotor electrodes in the 8-13 Hz band, compared to burst SCS.ConclusionsResults suggest that burst and tonic SCS are mediated by both different and shared mechanisms. Attenuated brushing-related ERD with tonic SCS suggests a gating of cortical activation by afferent impulses in the dorsal column, whereas burst may engage different pathways. Diminished brushing-related ERD at medium and therapeutic intensities of burst and tonic SCS points towards a nonlinear effect of SCS on somatosensory processing.

Original publication




Journal article


Neuromodulation : journal of the International Neuromodulation Society

Publication Date



Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK. Electronic address: