Prolonged pain reliably slows peak alpha frequency by reducing fast alpha power

A.J. Furman, M. Prokhorenko, M.L. Keaser, J. Zhang, S. Chen, A. Mazaheri, D.A. Seminowicz

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


The relationship between the 8-12 Hz “alpha: rhythm, the predominant oscillatory activity of the brain, and pain remains unclear. In healthy individuals, acute, noxious stimuli suppress alpha power while patients with chronic pain demonstrate both enhanced alpha power and slowing of the peak alpha frequency (PAF). To investigate these apparent differences, EEG was recorded from healthy individuals while they completed two models of prolonged pain, Phasic Heat Pain and Capsaicin Heat Pain, at two testing visits occurring roughly 8 weeks apart. We report that PAF is reliably slowed and that alpha power is reliably decreased in response to prolonged pain. Furthermore, we show that alpha power changes, but not PAF changes, are fully reversed with stimulus removal suggesting that PAF slowing reflects pain associated states such as sensitization rather than the presence of ongoing pain. Finally, we provide evidence that changes to alpha power and PAF are due to power decreases in the “fast” (10-12 Hz) range of the alpha rhythm. This frequency dependent pain response aligns with the hypothesis that the alpha rhythm is composed of multiple, independent oscillators, and suggest that modulation of a putative “fast” oscillator may represent a promising therapeutic target for treating ongoing pain. In sum, we provide strong evidence that PAF is reliably slowed during prolonged pain and additionally identify a mechanism, “fast” alpha Power, which is responsible for these PAF changes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2021


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