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Hum Brain Mapp. 2010 Feb;31(2):326-38. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20867.

Individual sensitivity to pain expectancy is related to differential activation of the hippocampus and amygdala.

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Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel.


Anxiety arising during pain expectancy can modulate the subjective experience of pain. However, individuals differ in their sensitivity to pain expectancy. The amygdale and hippocampus were proposed to mediate the behavioral response to aversive stimuli. However, their differential role in mediating anxiety-related individual differences is not clear. Using fMRI, we investigated brain activity during expectancy to cued or uncued thermal pain applied to the wrist. Following each stimulation participants rated the intensity of the painful experience. Activations in the amygdala and hippocampus were examined with respect to individual differences in harm avoidance (HA) personality trait, and individual sensitivity to expectancy, (i.e. response to cued vs. uncued painful stimuli). Only half of the subjects reported on cued pain as being more painful than uncued pain. In addition, we found a different activation profile for the amygdala and hippocampus during pain expectancy and experience. The amygdala was more active during expectancy and this activity was correlated with HA scores. The hippocampal activity was equally increased during both pain expectancy and experience, and correlated with the individual's sensitivity to expectancy. Our findings suggest that the amygdala supports an innate tendency to approach or avoid pain as reflected in HA trait, whereas the hippocampus mediates the effect of context possibly via appraisal of the stimulus value.

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