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Pain. 2005 Dec 5;118(3):390-9. Epub 2005 Nov 14.

Cortical representation of experimental tooth pain in humans.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Pathophysiology, University of Erlangen-Nuernberg, Universitaetsstrasse 17, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany.


Cortical processing of electrically induced pain from the tooth pulp was studied in healthy volunteers with fMRI. In a first experiment, cortical representation of tooth pain was compared with that of painful mechanical stimulation to the hand. The contralateral S1 cortex was activated during painful mechanical stimulation of the hand, whereas tooth pain lead to bilateral activation of S1. The S2 and insular region were bilaterally activated by both stimuli. In S2, the center of gravity of the activation during painful mechanical stimulation was more medial/posterior compared to tooth pain. In the insular region, tooth pain induced a stronger activation of the anterior and medial parts. The posterior part of the anterior cingulate gyrus was more strongly activated by painful stimulation of the hand. Differential activations were also found in motor and frontal areas including the orbital frontal cortex where tooth pain lead to greater activations. In a second experiment, we compared the effect of weak with strong tooth pain. A significantly greater activation by more painful tooth stimuli was found in most of those areas in which tooth pain had induced more activation than hand pain. In the medial frontal and right superior frontal gyri, we found an inverse relationship between pain intensity and BOLD contrast. We concluded that tooth pain activates a cortical network which is in several respects different from that activated by painful mechanical stimulation of the hand, not only in the somatotopically organized somatosensory areas but also in parts of the 'medial' pain projection system.

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