Stimulation of zona incerta in rodent models has been shown to modulate behavioral reactions to noxious stimuli. Sensory changes observed in Parkinsonian patients with subthalamic deep brain stimulation suggest that this effect is translatable to humans. Here, we utilized the serendipitous placement of subthalamic deep brain stimulation leads to directly investigate the effects of zona incerta stimulation on human pain perception. We found that stimulation at 20 Hz, the physiological firing frequency of zona incerta, reduces experimental heat pain by a modest but significant amount, achieving a 30% reduction in one fifth of implants. Stimulation at higher frequencies did not modulate heat pain. Modulation was selective for heat pain and was not observed for warmth perception or pressure pain. These findings provide a mechanistic explanation of sensory changes seen in subthalamic deep brain stimulation patients and identify zona incerta as a potential target for neuromodulation of pain.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience