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Pain. 2002 Sep;99(1-2):21-39.

Attentional modulation of the nociceptive processing into the human brain: selective spatial attention, probability of stimulus occurrence, and target detection effects on laser evoked potentials.

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Unité de Neurosciences Cognitives, Faculté de Psychologie et des Sciences de l'Education, Université catholique de Louvain, Place Cardinal Mercier 10, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


Laser evoked potentials (LEPs) are brain responses to activation of skin nociceptors by laser heat stimuli. LEPs consist of three components: N1, N2, and P2. Previous reports have suggested that in contrast to earlier activities (N1), LEPs responses after 230-250 ms (N2-P2) are modulated by attention to painful laser stimuli. However, the experimental paradigms used were not designed to specify the attentional processes involved in these LEP modulations. We investigated the effects of selective spatial attention and oddball tasks on LEPs. CO(2) laser stimuli of two different intensities were delivered on the dorsum of both hands of ten subjects. One intensity was frequently presented, and the other rarely. Subjects were asked to pay attention to stimuli delivered on one hand and to count rare stimuli, while ignoring stimuli on the other hand. Frequent and rare attended stimuli evoked enhanced N160 (N1) and N230 (N2) components in comparison to LEPs from unattended stimuli. Both components showed scalp distribution contralateral to the stimulus location. The vertex P400 (P2) was unaffected by spatial attention and stimulus location, but its amplitude increased after rare stimuli, whether attended or unattended. An additional parietal P600 component was induced by the attended rare stimuli. It is suggested that several attentional processes can modify nociceptive processing in the brain at different stages. LEP activities in the time-range of N1 and N2 (120-270 ms) showed evidence of processes modulated by the direction of spatial attention. Conversely, processes underlying P2 (400 ms) were not affected by spatial attention, but by the probability of the stimulus. This probability effect was not due to P3b-related processes that were observed at a later latency (600 ms). Indeed, P600 could be seen as a P3b evoked by conscious detection of rare targets.

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