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PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24932. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024932. Epub 2011 Sep 15.

Influence of body position on cortical pain-related somatosensory processing: an ERP study.

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  • 1Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.



Despite the consistent information available on the physiological changes induced by head down bed rest, a condition which simulates space microgravity, our knowledge on the possible perceptual-cortical alterations is still poor. The present study investigated the effects of 2-h head-down bed rest on subjective and cortical responses elicited by electrical, pain-related somatosensory stimulation.


Twenty male subjects were randomly assigned to two groups, head-down bed rest (BR) or sitting control condition. Starting from individual electrical thresholds, Somatosensory Evoked Potentials were elicited by electrical stimuli administered randomly to the left wrist and divided into four conditions: control painless condition, electrical pain threshold, 30% above pain threshold, 30% below pain threshold. Subjective pain ratings collected during the EEG session showed significantly reduced pain perception in BR compared to Control group. Statistical analysis on four electrode clusters and sLORETA source analysis revealed, in sitting controls, a P1 component (40-50 ms) in the right somatosensory cortex, whereas it was bilateral and differently located in BR group. Controls' N1 (80-90 ms) had widespread right hemisphere activation, involving also anterior cingulate, whereas BR group showed primary somatosensory cortex activation. The P2 (190-220 ms) was larger in left-central locations of Controls compared with BR group.


Head-down bed rest was associated to an overall decrease of pain sensitivity and an altered pain network also outside the primary somatosensory cortex. Results have implications not only for astronauts' health and spaceflight risks, but also for the clinical aspects of pain detection in bedridden patients at risk of fatal undetected complications.

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