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Neuroimage. 2006 Jul 1;31(3):1278-83. Epub 2006 Mar 3.

Acoustic noise in functional magnetic resonance imaging reduces pain unpleasantness ratings.

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Human Pain Research Group, University of Manchester Rheumatic Diseases Centre, Hope Hospital, Salford M6 8HD, UK.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is increasingly used in cognitive studies. Unfortunately, the scanner produces acoustic noise during the image acquisition process. Interference from acoustic noise is known to affect auditory, visual and motor processing, raising the possibility that acoustic interference may also modulate processing of other sensory modalities such as pain. With the increasing use of fMRI in the investigation of the mechanisms of pain perception, particularly in relation to attention, this issue has become highly relevant. Pain is a complex experience, composed of sensory-discriminative, affective-motivational and cognitive-evaluative components. The aim of this experiment was to assess the effect of MRI scanner noise, compared to white noise, on the affective (unpleasantness) and the sensory-discriminative (localisation) components of pain. Painful radiant heat from a CO(2) laser was delivered to the skin of the right forearm in 24 healthy volunteers. The volunteers attended to either pain location or pain unpleasantness during three conditions: i) no noise, ii) exposure to MRI scanner noise (85 dB) or iii) exposure to white noise (85 dB). Both MRI scanner noise and white noise significantly reduced unpleasantness ratings (from 5.1 +/- 1.6 in the control condition to 4.7 +/- 1.5 (P = 0.002) and 4.6 +/- 1.6 (P < 0.001) with scanner and white noise respectively), whereas the ability to localise pain was not significantly affected (from 85.4 +/- 9.2% correct in the control condition to 83.1 +/- 10.3% (P = 0.06) and 83.9 +/- 9.5% (P = 0.27) with MRI scanner and white noise respectively). This phenomenon should be taken into account in the design of fMRI studies into human pain perception.

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