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J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jul;78(1):450-60.

Cerebral processing of acute skin and muscle pain in humans.

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  • 1Department of Prosthetic Dentistry and Stomatognathic Physiology, Orofacial Pain Clinic, Royal Dental College, University of Aarhus, Denmark.


The human cerebral processing of noxious input from skin and muscle was compared with the use of positron emission tomography with intravenous H2(15)O to detect changes in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) as an indicator of neuronal activity. During each of eight scans, 11 normal subjects rated the intensity of stimuli delivered to the nondominant (left) forearm on a scale ranging from 0 to 100 with 70 as pain threshold. Cutaneous pain was produced with a high-energy CO2 laser stimulator. Muscle pain was elicited with high-intensity intramuscular electrical stimulation. The mean ratings of perceived intensity for innocuous and noxious stimulation were 32.6 +/- 4.5 (SE) and 78.4 +/- 1.7 for cutaneous stimulation and 15.4 +/- 4.2 and 73.5 +/- 1.4 for intramuscular stimulation. The pain intensity ratings and the differences between noxious and innocuous ratings were similar for cutaneous and intramuscular stimuli (P > 0.05). After stereotactic registration, statistical pixel-by-pixel summation (Z score) and volumes-of-interest (VOI) analyses of subtraction images were performed. Significant increases in rCBF to both noxious cutaneous and intramuscular stimulation were found in the contralateral secondary somatosensory cortex (SII) and inferior parietal lobule [Brodmann area (BA) 40]. Comparable levels of rCBF increase were found in the contralateral anterior insular cortex, thalamus, and ipsilateral cerebellum. Noxious cutaneous stimulation caused significant activation in the contralateral lateral prefrontal cortex (BA 10/46) and ipsilateral premotor cortex (BA 4/6). Noxious intramuscular stimulation evoked rCBF increases in the contralateral anterior cingulate cortex (BA 24) and subsignificant responses in the contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex (MI/SI) and lenticular nucleus. These activated cerebral structures may represent those recruited early in nociceptive processing because both forms of stimuli were near pain threshold. Correlation analyses showed a negative relationship between changes in rCBF for thalamus and MI/SI for cutaneous stimulation, and positive relationships between thalamus and anterior insula for both stimulus modalities. Direct statistical comparisons between innocuous cutaneous and intramuscular stimulation with the use of Z scores and VOI analyses showed no reliable differences between these two forms of noxious stimulation, indicating a substantial overlap in brain activation pattern. The comparison of noxious cutaneous and intramuscular stimulation indicated more activation in the premotor cortex, SII, and prefrontal cortex with cutaneous stimulation, but these differences did not reach statistical significance. The similar cerebral activation patterns suggest that the perceived differences between acute skin and muscle pain are mediated by differences in the intensity and temporospatial pattern of neuronal activity within similar sets of forebrain structures.

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