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Non‑rectangular neurostimulation waveforms elicit varied sensation quality and perceptive fields on the hand

By Kirstin Ahmed

Electrical stimulation of the nerves is known to elicit distinct sensations perceived in distal parts of the body. The stimulation is typically modulated in current with charge-balanced rectangular shapes that, although easily generated by stimulators available on the market, are not able to cover the entire range of somatosensory experiences from daily life. In this regard, we have investigated the effect of electrical neurostimulation with four non-rectangular waveforms in an experiment involving 11 healthy able-bodied subjects. Weiss curves were estimated and rheobase and chronaxie values were obtained showing increases in stimulation time required to elicit sensations for some waveforms. The localization of the sensations reported in the hand also appeared to differ between waveforms, although the total area did not vary significantly. Finally, the possibility of distinguishing different charge- and amplitude-matched stimuli was demonstrated through a two-alternative-forced-choice (2AFC) match-to-sample task, showing the ability of participants to successfully distinguish between waveforms with similar electrical characteristics but different shapes and charge transfer rates. This study provides evidence that, by using different waveforms to stimulate nerves, it is possible to affect not only the required charge to elicit sensations but also the sensation quality and its localization.