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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Sep;110(5):1221-6. doi: 10.1152/jn.00284.2013. Epub 2013 Jun 19.

Analogous responses in the nucleus accumbens and cingulate cortex to pain onset (aversion) and offset (relief) in rats and humans.

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  • 1P.A.I.N. Group, Children's Hospital of Boston, Waltham, MA 02453, USA. lino.becerra@childrens.harvard.edu


In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the nucleus accumbens (NAc) appears to reflect affective and motivational aspects of pain. The responses of this reward-aversion circuit to relief of pain, however, have not been investigated in detail. Moreover, it is not clear whether brain processing of the affective qualities of pain in animals parallels the mechanisms observed in humans. In the present study, we analyzed fMRI blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) activity separately in response to an onset (aversion) and offset (reward) of a noxious heat stimulus to a dorsal part of a limb in both humans and rats. We show that pain onset results in negative activity change in the NAc and pain offset produces positive activity change in the ACC and NAc. These changes were analogous in humans and rats, suggesting that translational studies of brain circuits modulated by pain are plausible and may offer an opportunity for mechanistic investigation of pain and pain relief.


anterior cingulate cortex; aversion and reward; fMRI; nucleus accumbens; pain

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