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Pain. 2006 Jan;120(1-2):213-20. Epub 2005 Dec 19.

Unpleasant odors increase pain processing in a patient with neuropathic pain: psychophysical and fMRI investigation.

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  • 1McGill Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, Montreal, Qu├ębec, Canada.


A 49-year old man with neuropathic pain in his right elbow, wrist and digits III-V of his hand reported that certain odors increased his pain by superimposing an electric shock-like pain to his already existing pain. Psychophysical testing revealed that the best predictor of pain exacerbation was odor unpleasantness. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed increased activation following an unpleasant odor in pain related areas, including the thalamus, amygdala, insular and anterior cingulate cortices, with similar trends in primary somatosensory cortex hand/arm area. The increased pain and associated neural activations in response to unpleasant odors may be related to the phenomenon of synesthesia, to a rewiring of olfactory pathways onto pain pathways mimicking synesthesia or, to activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

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