A novel theta-controlled vibrotactile brain–computer interface to treat chronic pain: a pilot study

Phillip Demarest, Nabi Rustamov, James Swift, Tao Xie, Markus Adamek, Hohyun Cho, Elizabeth Wilson, Zhuangyu Han, Alexander Belsten, Nicholas Luczak, Peter Brunner, Simon Haroutounian, Eric C. Leuthardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Limitations in chronic pain therapies necessitate novel interventions that are effective, accessible, and safe. Brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) provide a promising modality for targeting neuropathology underlying chronic pain by converting recorded neural activity into perceivable outputs. Recent evidence suggests that increased frontal theta power (4–7 Hz) reflects pain relief from chronic and acute pain. Further studies have suggested that vibrotactile stimulation decreases pain intensity in experimental and clinical models. This longitudinal, non-randomized, open-label pilot study's objective was to reinforce frontal theta activity in six patients with chronic upper extremity pain using a novel vibrotactile neurofeedback BCI system. Patients increased their BCI performance, reflecting thought-driven control of neurofeedback, and showed a significant decrease in pain severity (1.29 ± 0.25 MAD, p = 0.03, q = 0.05) and pain interference (1.79 ± 1.10 MAD p = 0.03, q = 0.05) scores without any adverse events. Pain relief significantly correlated with frontal theta modulation. These findings highlight the potential of BCI-mediated cortico-sensory coupling of frontal theta with vibrotactile stimulation for alleviating chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3433
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


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