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Heart. 2002 Jun;87(6):513-9.

Central neural contribution to the perception of chest pain in cardiac syndrome X.

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  • 1MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, London, UK.



To investigate the central neural contribution to chest pain perception in cardiac syndrome X (angina-like pain, ECG changes during stress, angiographically normal coronary arteriogram).


Eight syndrome X patients and eight healthy volunteers.


Dobutamine stress using echocardiography to assess myocardial function, and positron emission tomography to measure changes in regional cerebral blood flow, as an index of neuronal activity.


During similar doses of dobutamine, syndrome X patients and controls showed comparable regional cerebral blood flow changes in the hypothalamus, thalami, right orbito-frontal cortex, and anterior temporal poles, associated with the sensation of a fast or powerful heart beat. In patients, but not controls, the stress also generated severe chest pain associated with increased activity in the right anterior insula/frontal operculum junction. There were ischaemia-like ECG changes in the syndrome X patients, but no left ventricular dysfunction on echocardiography. Activation of the right insula during chest pain clearly distinguished the syndrome X patients from a group of patients with known coronary disease.


Chest pain and ECG changes were not accompanied by demonstrable myocardial dysfunction in syndrome X patients, but altered central neural handling of afferent signals may contribute to the abnormal pain perception in these patients.

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