Repetitive activation of non-nociceptive afferents is known to attenuate nociceptive signaling. However, the functional details of how this modulatory process operates are not understood and this has been a barrier in using such stimuli to effectively treat chronic pain. The present study tests the hypothesis that the ability of repeated non-nociceptive stimuli to reduce nociception is a form of generalized habituation from the non-nociceptive stimulus-response pathway to the nociceptive pathway. Habituation training, using non-nociceptive mechanosensory stimuli, did reduce responses to nociceptive thermal stimulation. This generalization of habituation to nociceptive stimuli required endocannabinoid-mediated neuromodulation, although disrupting of endocannabinoid signaling did not affect “direct” habituation of to the non-nociceptive stimulus. Surprisingly, the reduced response to nociceptive stimuli following habituation training was very long-lasting (3–8 days). This long-term habituation required endocannabinoid signaling during the training/acquisition phase, but endocannabinoids were not required for post-training retention phase. The implications of these results are that applying principles of habituation learning could potentially improve anti-nociceptive therapies utilizing repeated non-nociceptive stimulation such as transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS), spinal cord stimulation (SCS), or electro-acupuncture.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience