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J Neurosci. 2002 Sep 15;22(18):8183-92.

Somatotopic activation in the human trigeminal pain pathway.

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  • 1Center for Pain Functional Neuroimaging and Therapy Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02129, USA.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to image pain-associated activity in three levels of the neuraxis: the medullary dorsal horn, thalamus, and primary somatosensory cortex. In nine subjects, noxious thermal stimuli (46 degrees C) were applied to the facial skin at sites within the three divisions of the trigeminal nerve (V1, V2, and V3) and also to the ipsilateral thumb. Anatomical and functional data were acquired to capture activation across the spinothalamocortical pathway in each individual. Significant activation was observed in the ipsilateral spinal trigeminal nucleus within the medulla and lower pons in response to at least one of the three facial stimuli in all applicable data sets. Activation from the three facial stimulation sites exhibited a somatotopic organization along the longitudinal (rostrocaudal) axis of the brain stem that was consistent with the classically described "onion skin" pattern of sensory deficits observed in patients after trigeminal tractotomy. In the thalamus, activation was observed in the contralateral side involving the ventroposteromedial and dorsomedial nuclei after stimulation of the face and in the ventroposterolateral and dorsomedial nuclei after stimulation of the thumb. Activation in the primary somatosensory cortex displayed a laminar sequence that resembled the trigeminal nucleus, with V2 more rostral, V1 caudal, and V3 medial, abutting the region of cortical activation observed for the thumb. These results represent the first simultaneous imaging of pain-associated activation at three levels of the neuraxis in individual subjects. This approach will be useful for exploring central correlates of plasticity in models of experimental and clinical pain.

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