Chronic pain is a major distressing symptom of Parkinson's disease (PD) that is often undertreated. Subthalamic nucleus (STN) deep brain stimulation (DBS) delivers high-frequency stimulation (HFS) to patients with PD and has been effective in pain relief in a subset of these patients. However, up to 74% of patients develop new pain concerns while receiving STN DBS. Here the authors explore whether altering the frequency of STN DBS changes pain perception as measured through quantitative sensory testing (QST).
Using QST, the authors measured thermal and mechanical detection and pain thresholds in 19 patients undergoing DBS via HFS, low-frequency stimulation (LFS), and off conditions in a randomized order. Testing was performed in the region of the body with the most pain and in the lower back in patients without chronic pain.
In the patients with chronic pain, LFS significantly reduced heat detection thresholds as compared with thresholds following HFS (p = 0.029) and in the off state (p = 0.010). Moreover, LFS resulted in increased detection thresholds for mechanical pressure (p = 0.020) and vibration (p = 0.040) compared with these thresholds following HFS. Neither LFS nor HFS led to changes in other mechanical thresholds. In patients without chronic pain, LFS significantly increased mechanical pain thresholds in response to the 40-g pinprick compared with thresholds following HFS (p = 0.032).
Recent literature has suggested that STN LFS can be useful in treating nonmotor symptoms of PD. Here the authors demonstrated that LFS modulates thermal and mechanical detection to a greater extent than HFS. Low-frequency stimulation is an innovative means of modulating chronic pain in PD patients receiving STN DBS. The authors suggest that STN LFS may be a future option to consider when treating Parkinson's patients in whom pain remains the predominant complaint.