Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has shown promise in the alleviation of acute and chronic pain by altering the activity of cortical areas involved in pain sensation. However, current single-coil rTMS technology only allows for effects in surface cortical structures. The ability to affect activity in certain deep brain structures may however, allow for a better efficacy, safety, and tolerability. This study used PET imaging to determine whether a novel multi-coil rTMS would allow for preferential targeting of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), an area always activated with pain, and to provide preliminary evidence as to whether this targeted approach would allow for efficacious, safe, and tolerable analgesia both in a volunteer/acute pain model as well as in fibromyalgia chronic pain patients.
Part 1: Different coil configurations were tested in a placebo-controlled crossover design in volunteers (N = 16). Tonic pain was induced using a capsaicin/thermal pain model and functional brain imaging was performed by means of H215O positron emission tomography – computed tomography (PET/CT) scans. Differences in NRS pain ratings between TMS and sham treatment (NRSTMS-NRSplacebo) which were recorded each minute during the 10 minute PET scans. Part 2: 16 fibromyalgia patients were subjected to 20 multi-coil rTMS treatments over 4 weeks and effects on standard pain scales (Brief Pain Inventory, item 5, i.e. average pain NRS over the last 24 hours) were recorded.
A single 30 minute session using one of 3 tested rTMS coil configurations operated at 1 Hz consistently produced robust reduction (mean 70% on NRS scale) in evoked pain in volunteers. In fibromyalgia patients, the 20 rTMS sessions also produced a significant pain inhibition (43% reduction in NRS pain over last 24 hours), but only when operated at 10 Hz. This degree of pain control was maintained for at least 4 weeks after the final session.
Multi-coil rTMS may be a safe and effective treatment option for acute as well as for chronic pain, such as that accompanying fibromyalgia. Further studies are necessary to optimize configurations and settings as well as to elucidate the mechanisms that lead to the long-lasting pain control produced by these treatments.