Investigation of directional discrimination in the nociceptive system using temperature-controlled laser stimuli

Ahmad Rujoie*, Ole Kæseler Andersen, Ken Steffen Frahm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background: Cutaneous laser stimulation has commonly been employed to investigate the thermal properties of the nociceptive system. The aim of this study was to investigate how a temperature-controlled laser system improves the assessment of directional discrimination in the nociceptive system. Methods: In total, twenty healthy volunteers participated in this study. To determine the directional discrimination threshold (stimulation length 50% correct, expressed in mm), thermal stimuli were delivered using a diode laser and the laser beam was perpendicularly displaced across the skin to give a linear stimulation in four different directions (distal, proximal, lateral and medial) and displacement lengths (3 for lateral-medial and 5 for distal-proximal). Two temperature control modes were used in the stimulation system, open-loop and closed-loop control. The subjects had to report the perceived stimulus direction, the degree of certainty regarding the perceived direction and the intensity of the perceived stimulus (0–10 numerical rating scale, 3: pain threshold). Results: During closed-loop control, the orientation of stimuli was discriminated significantly more accurately than during open-loop control. During closed-loop control, the directional discrimination threshold was 31.9 and 26.1 mm for distal-proximal and lateral-medial directed stimuli, respectively. A numerical rating scale was significantly higher for the lateral/medial directions. Moreover, the variability of the discrimination threshold is reduced in the closed-loop control system. Conclusions: The findings show that discrimination ability is better in the lateral-medial directions compared to the distal-proximal directions. This study indicates that using a system enabling closed-loop temperature control, allows more robust probing of the temporo-spatial mechanisms in the nociceptive system. Significance: This study shows that a newly developed temperature-controlled laser stimulation system enhances the possibilities to investigate the nociceptive temporo-spatial integration, as shown by a less variable directional discrimination threshold. The results also show that different orthogonal directions are discriminated differently. This new method allows a better investigation of the combined temporal and spatial mechanisms in the nociceptive system.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Mar 2024


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