Active Recharge Burst and Tonic Spinal Cord Stimulation Engage Different Supraspinal Mechanisms: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study in Peripherally Injured Chronic Neuropathic Rats

Koen P. Meuwissen*, Annette van der Toorn, Jianwen Wendy Gu, Tianhe C. Zhang, Rick M. Dijkhuizen, Elbert A. J. Joosten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives To assess the supraspinal working mechanisms of the burst spinal cord stimulation (SCS) mode, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in chronic neuropathic rats. We hypothesized that active recharge burst SCS would induce a more profound blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal increase in areas associated with cognitive-emotional aspects of pain, as compared to tonic SCS.

Methods Sprague Dawley rats (n = 17) underwent a unilateral partial sciatic nerve ligation, which resulted in chronic neuropathic pain. Quadripolar SCS electrodes were epidurally positioned on top of the dorsal columns at Th13. Isoflurane-anesthetized (1.5%) rats received either tonic SCS (n = 8) or burst SCS (n = 9) at 66% of motor threshold. BOLD fMRI was conducted before, during, and after SCS using a 9.4-T horizontal bore scanner.

Results Overall, both tonic and burst SCS induced a significant increase of BOLD signal levels in areas associated with the location and intensity of pain, and areas associated with cognitive-emotional aspects of pain. Additionally, burst SCS significantly increased BOLD signal levels in the raphe nuclei, nucleus accumbens, and caudate putamen. Tonic SCS did not induce a significant increase in BOLD signal levels in these areas.

Conclusions In conclusion, active recharge burst and tonic SCS have different effects on the intensity and localization of SCS-induced activation responses in the brain. This work demonstrates that active recharge burst is another waveform that can engage brain areas associated with cognitive-emotional aspects of pain as well as areas associated with location and intensity of pain. Previous studies showing similar engagement used only passive recharge burst.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-521
Number of pages12
JournalPain Practice
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • spinal cord stimulation
  • burst
  • fMRI
  • chronic neuropathic pain
  • rat

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