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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Jun;85(6):2602-12.

Hemispheric lateralization of somatosensory processing.

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Pain and Neurosensory Mechanisms Branch, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Processing of both painful and nonpainful somatosensory information is generally thought to be subserved by brain regions predominantly contralateral to the stimulated body region. However, lesions to right, but not left, posterior parietal cortex have been reported to produce a unilateral tactile neglect syndrome, suggesting that components of somatosensory information are preferentially processed in the right half of the brain. To better characterize right hemispheric lateralization of somatosensory processing, H(2)(15)O positron emission tomography (PET) of cerebral blood flow was used to map brain activation produced by contact thermal stimulation of both the left and right arms of right-handed subjects. To allow direct assessment of the lateralization of activation, left- and right-sided stimuli were delivered during separate PET scans. Both innocuous (35 degrees C) and painful (49 degrees C) stimuli were employed to determine whether lateralized processing occurred in a manner related to perceived pain intensity. Subjects were also scanned during a nonstimulated rest condition to characterize activation that was not related to perceived pain intensity. Pain intensity-dependent and -independent changes in activation were identified in separate multiple regression analyses. Regardless of the side of stimulation, pain intensity--dependent activation was localized to contralateral regions of the primary somatosensory cortex, secondary somatosensory cortex, insular cortex, and bilateral regions of the cerebellum, putamen, thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex, and frontal operculum. No hemispheric lateralization of pain intensity-dependent processing was detected. In sharp contrast, portions of the thalamus, inferior parietal cortex (BA 40), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 9/46), and dorsal frontal cortex (BA 6) exhibited right lateralized activation during both innocuous and painful stimulation, regardless of the side of stimulation. Thus components of information arising from the body surface are processed, in part, by right lateralized systems analogous to those that process auditory and visual spatial information arising from extrapersonal space. Such right lateralized processing can account for the left somatosensory neglect arising from injury to brain regions within the right cerebral hemisphere.

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