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Int J Psychophysiol. 2010 Jan;75(1):16-24. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2009.10.008. Epub 2009 Oct 12.

Brain activation patterns underlying fast habituation to painful laser stimuli.

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Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Heinrich-Heine University Duesseldorf, Germany.


A painful experience is modified by processes like habituation/antinociception or sensitization. Altered habituation may be one characteristic of chronic pain syndromes. In the present study we sought to investigate the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) correlate of rapid habituation to pain using simultaneous single trial electrodermal activity (EDA)/fMRI measurements. A total of N=32 healthy subjects have been investigated. Subjects received painful laser stimulation of the left hand. The fMRI BOLD response was measured simultaneously with continuous EDA recordings. Single trial EDA responses to laser stimulation habituated over time with substantial subject-to-subject differences in the degree and speed of habituation. fMRI BOLD habituation was assessed by contrasting the first half of the experiment against the second half and was found in primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). We hypothesized that single trial EDA habituation would reflect BOLD habituation which was investigated separately in subjects with 'faster' (N=15) and 'slower' (N=14) EDA habituation. Significant habituation of the BOLD signal was only found in subjects with 'faster' EDA habituation that was accompanied by a signal increase in the rostral ACC and the periaqueductal grey. Furthermore, subjects with faster EDA habituation provided lower pain ratings. Therefore the EDA habituation profile to painful stimulation may constitute a pain-related (endo)phenotype and may be an informative additional endpoint measure in fMR-imaging of pain, especially when people suffering from chronic pain states in which pain processing is often altered are studied.

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