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Neuroimage. 2004 Sep;23(1):224-32.

Somatotopic organization of human somatosensory cortices for pain: a single trial fMRI study.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Neurology, Hamburg University Medical School, Germany.


The ability to locate pain plays a pivotal role in immediate defense and withdrawal behavior. However, how the brain localizes nociceptive information without additional information from somatotopically organized mechano-receptive pathways is not well understood. To investigate the somatotopic organization of the nociceptive system, we applied Thulium-YAG-laser evoked pain stimuli, which have no concomitant tactile component, to the dorsum of the left hand and foot in randomized order. We used single-trial functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess differential hemodynamic responses to hand and foot stimulation for the group and in a single subject approach. The primary somatosensory cortex (SI) shows a clear somatotopic organization ipsi- and contralaterally to painful stimulation. Furthermore, a differential representation of hand and foot stimulation appeared within the contralateral opercular--insular region of the secondary somatosensory cortex (SII). This result provides evidence that both SI and SII encode spatial information of nociceptive stimuli without additional information from the tactile system and highlights the concept of a redundant representation of basic discriminative stimulus features in human somatosensory cortices, which seems adequate in view of the evolutionary importance of pain perception.

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