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Annu Rev Neurosci. 2003;26:1-30. Epub 2003 Mar 6.

Pain mechanisms: labeled lines versus convergence in central processing.

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Atkinson Pain Research Laboratory, Barrow Neurological Institute, 350 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85013, USA.


The issue of whether pain is represented by specific neural elements or by patterned activity within a convergent somatosensory subsystem has been debated for over a century. The gate control theory introduced in 1965 denied central specificity, and since then most authors have endorsed convergent wide-dynamic-range neurons. Recent functional and anatomical findings provide compelling support for a new perspective that views pain in humans as a homeostatic emotion that integrates both specific labeled lines and convergent somatic activity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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