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Pain. 2007 Mar;128(1-2):20-30. Epub 2006 Oct 2.

Somatotopic organization of the processing of muscle and cutaneous pain in the left and right insula cortex: a single-trial fMRI study.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Histology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. <>


The insula is involved in processing noxious information. It is consistently activated by acute noxious stimuli, can elicit pain on stimulation, and lesions encompassing the insula can alter pain perception. Anatomical tracing, electrophysiological and functional brain imaging investigations have suggested that the insula is somatotopically organized with respect to noxious cutaneous inputs. It has also recently been revealed that the anterior insula displays differential activation during cutaneous compared with muscle pain. Given this difference, it is important to determine if an insula somatotopy also exists for muscle pain. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we compared insula activation patterns in 23 subjects during muscle and cutaneous pain induced in the right leg and forearm. Group and frequency analyses revealed somatotopically organized signal increases in the posterior contralateral (left) and ipsilateral (right) anterior insula. Within the posterior contralateral insula, signal increases during both cutaneous and muscle forearm pain were located lateral and anterior to those evoked by leg pain, whereas in the ipsilateral anterior insula the pattern was reversed. Furthermore, within the ipsilateral anterior insula, muscle pain activated a region anterior to that activated by cutaneous pain. This somatotopic organization may be crucial for pain localization or other aspects of the pain experience that differ depending on both stimulation site and type of tissue activated. This study reveals that the insula is organized somatopically with respect to muscle and cutaneous pain and that this organization is further separated according to the tissue in which the pain originates.

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