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Pain. 2006 Dec 15;126(1-3):221-33. Epub 2006 Aug 4.

Emotional modulation of spinal nociception and pain: the impact of predictable noxious stimulation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, The University of Tulsa, 600 South College Ave., Tulsa, OK 74104, USA.


Recent evidence suggests that emotional picture-viewing is a reliable method of engaging descending modulation of spinal nociception. The present study attempted to replicate these findings and determine the effect of noxious stimulus predictability. Participants viewed pictures from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS), during which pain and nociceptive flexion reflexes (NFR) were elicited by electric shocks delivered to the sural nerve. For half of the participants (n=25) shocks were preceded by a cue (predictable), whereas the other half received no cue (unpredictable). Results suggested emotion was successfully induced by pictures, but the effect of picture-viewing on the NFR was moderated by the predictability of the shocks. When shock was unpredictable, spinal nociception (NFR) and pain ratings were modulated in parallel. Specifically, pain and NFR magnitudes were lower during pleasant emotions and higher during unpleasant emotions. However, when shocks were predictable, only pain was modulated in this way. NFRs from predictable shocks were not altered by pictures. Further, exploratory analyses found that pain ratings, but not NFRs, were lower during predictable shocks. These data suggest emotional picture-viewing is a reliable method of engaging descending modulation of spinal nociception. However, descending modulation could not be detected in NFRs resulting from predictable noxious stimuli. Although preliminary, this study implies that separate mechanisms are responsible for emotional modulation of nociception at spinal vs. supraspinal levels, and that predictable noxious events may disengage modulation at the spinal level. The current paradigm could serve as a useful tool for studying descending modulation.

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