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Brain Res Bull. 2002 Jul;58(3):243-60.

Separate, parallel sensory and hedonic pathways in the mammalian somatosensory system.

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  • 1Sandia Research Center, Placitas, NM 87043, USA. sewards@nmia.com


We propose that separate sensory and hedonic representations exist in each of the primary structures of the somatosensory system, including brainstem, thalamic and cortical components. In the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, the hedonic representation, which consists primarily of nociceptive-specific, wide dynamic range, and thermoreceptive neurons, is located in laminae I and II, while the sensory representation, composed primarily by low-threshold and wide dynamic range neurons, is found in laminae III through V. A similar arrangement is found in the caudal spinal trigeminal nucleus. Based on the available anatomical and electrophysiological data, we then determine the corresponding hedonic and sensory representations in the area of the dorsal column nuclei, ventrobasal and posterior thalamic complex, and cortex. In rodent primary somatosensory cortex, a hedonic representation can be found in laminae Vb and VI. In carnivore and primate primary and secondary somatosensory cortical areas no hedonic representation exists, and the activities of neurons in both areas represent the sensory aspect exclusively. However, there is a hedonic representation in the posterior part of insular cortex, bordering on retroinsular cortex, that receives projections from two thalamic areas in which hedonics are represented. The functions of the segregated components of the system are discussed, especially in relation to the subjective awareness of pain.

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