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Pain. 2007 Sep;131(1-2):21-30. Epub 2007 Jan 26.

Habituation to painful stimulation involves the antinociceptive system.

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Department of Neurology, University of Hamburg (UKE), Germany.


The perception of pain results from an interaction between nociceptive and antinociceptive mechanisms. A better understanding of the neural circuitry underlying these physiological interactions provides an important opportunity to develop better treatment strategies for and ultimately even prevent pain. Here, we investigated how repeated painful stimulation over several days is processed, perceived and finally modulated in the healthy human brain. Twenty healthy subjects were stimulated daily with a 20min pain paradigm for 8 consecutive days, and functional MRI performed on days 1, 8 and 22. Repeated painful stimulation over several days resulted in substantially decreased pain ratings to identical painful stimuli. The decreased perception of pain over time is reflected in decreased BOLD responses to nociceptive stimuli in classical pain areas, including thalamus, insula, SII and the putamen. In contrast to this finding, we found that pain-related responses in the rACC, specifically the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), significantly increased over time. Given this area's predominant role in endogenous pain control, this response pattern suggests that habituation to pain is at least in part mediated by increased antinociceptive activity.

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