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Pain. 2008 Jul 15;137(2):413-21. Epub 2007 Nov 19.

Altered cerebral response to noxious heat stimulation in patients with somatoform pain disorder.

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  • 1Abteilung Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Carl-Neuberg - Str. 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany.


Idiopathic chronic pain conditions with a mismatch between anatomical abnormalities and symptoms can be categorized as somatoform pain disorder according to the DSM-IV criteria. A dysfunction of pain processing circuits has been suggested as one underlying pathophysiological factor. There is accumulating evidence for a crucial role of affect regulating brain structures such as the medial frontal cortex in this context. We investigated the cerebral processing of noxious heat stimuli as objective marker for pain sensation in 12 right handed women with somatoform pain disorder fulfilling DSM-IV criteria and 13 age-matched healthy volunteers using functional MRI. The average ratings for experimentally induced pain were not significantly different between controls and patients concerning pain intensity and pain unpleasantness. Comparing patients with controls a pain related hypoactive state of the ventromedial prefrontal/orbitofrontal cortex (BA 10/11) and a hyperactive state of the parahippocampal gyrus, amygdala and anterior insula were found in the patient group. Our findings of an altered cerebral processing of experimentally induced pain in patients with somatoform pain disorder support the hypothesis of dysfunctional pain processing, especially in affect regulating regions.

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