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Papers of the Week

Papers: 27 Feb 2021 - 5 Mar 2021

Human Studies

2021 Feb 26

Exp Brain Res

Aberrant plasticity in musculoskeletal pain: a failure of homeostatic control?


Thapa T, Graven-Nielsen T, Schabrun SM
Exp Brain Res. 2021 Feb 26.
PMID: 33635391.


Aberrant synaptic plasticity is hypothesised to underpin chronic pain. Yet, synaptic plasticity regulated by homeostatic mechanisms have received limited attention in pain. We investigated homeostatic plasticity in the human primary motor cortex (M1) of 21 healthy individuals in response to experimentally induced muscle pain for several days. Experimental pain was induced by injecting nerve growth factor into the muscle belly of the right extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle. Pain and disability were monitored until day 21. Homeostatic plasticity was induced on day 0, 2, 4, 6, and 14 in the left M1 using anodal transcranial direct stimulation (tDCS) applied for 7 and 5 min, separated by a 3-min rest period. Motor-evoked potentials (MEP) to transcranial magnetic stimulation assessed the homeostatic response. On days 0 and 14, MEPs increased following the first block of tDCS (p < 0.004), and decreased following the second block of tDCS (p < 0.001), consistent with a normal homeostatic response. However, on days 2 (p = 0.07) and 4 (p = 0.7), the decrease in MEPs after the second block of tDCS was attenuated, representing an impaired homeostatic response. Findings demonstrate altered homeostatic plasticity in the M1 with the greatest alteration observed after 4 days of sustained pain. This study provides longitudinal insight into homeostatic plasticity in response to the development, maintenance, and resolution of pain over the course of 14 days.