Words to Know
Electrotactile stimulation is the process of using a small stimulation electrode to pass a small electric current through the skin, producing controlled, localized touch sensations. This generates an electric field in subcutaneous tissue, which directly excites the afferent nerve fibers (those that direct impulses toward the central nervous system) responsible for normal, mechanical touch sensations. The stimulation is perceived as tingling, pressure, vibration or a pinprick, depending on the electrode and stimulation waveform properties. Depending on the characteristics of the stimulation and the afferent nerves, electrotactile stimulation may directly or indirectly induce neuromodulation.
Neuromodulation is the use of external stimulation to intentionally change and regulate the electrochemical environment of the brain. Other contemporary forms of neurostimulation aimed at inducing neuromodulation are costly and invasive, with the potential for adverse effects. For example, deep brain stimulation, which uses implanted pacemaker-like electrical devices to decrease tremors in Parkinson’s, carries surgical risks.
Cranial Nerve Noninvasive Neuromodulation (CN-NINM) couples electrical stimulation with targeted functional therapy, including physical, occupational and cognitive exercises, based on the patient’s deficits. It is deployed through the tongue using the PoNS™ device to stimulate two major cranial nerves: the trigeminal (the nerve responsible for sensations in the face, biting and chewing) and the facial (the nerve responsible for motor control of most of the muscles of facial expression).
Neuromodulation enhances neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to restructure or relearn in response to new experiences, sensory input and functional demands. The process of neuroplasticity underlies all cerebral learning, training and rehabilitation.