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Eur J Pain. 2000;4(2):157-72.

Gender differences in regional brain response to visceral pressure in IBS patients.

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UCLA/CURE Neuroenteric Disease Program, UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases, Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychology, UCLA, and PET Center, Division of Nuclear Medicine, West LA VA Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA 90073, USA.


In two experiments including a total of 30 irritable bowel syndrome patients, symptom-mimicking rectal pressure stimuli elicited changes in regional neural activation as measured by positron electron tomography (PET) cerebral blood flow images. Although most stimuli were not rated as painful, rectal pressure increased regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in areas commonly associated with somatic pain, including the anterior cingulate, insula, prefrontal cortex, thalamus, and cerebellum. Despite similar stimulus ratings in male and female patients, regional activations were much stronger for males. In both experiments, rectal pressure activated the insula bilaterally in males but not in females. Insula activation was associated most strongly with objective visceral pressure, whereas anterior cingulate activation was associated more with correlated ratings of subjective discomfort. The insula is discussed as a visceral sensory cortex. Several possible reasons for the insula gender effect are proposed.

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