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Pain. 2010 Jun;149(3):453-62. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.01.005. Epub 2010 Apr 22.

Dissection of perceptual, motor and autonomic components of brain activity evoked by noxious stimulation.

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Department of Physiology, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Que., Canada.


In the past two decades, functional brain imaging has considerably advanced our knowledge of cerebral pain processing. However, many important links are still missing in our understanding of brain activity in relation to the regulation of pain-related physiological responses. This fMRI study investigates the cerebral correlates of pain (rating), motor responses (RIII-reflex) and autonomic activity (skin conductance response; SCR) evoked by noxious electrical stimulation. Stimulus intensity was adjusted individually based on the RIII threshold to control for differences in peripheral processes and baseline spinal activation. Covariance analyses were used to reveal individual differences in brain activity uniquely associated with individual differences in pain, RIII and SCR. Shock-evoked activity in cingulate, medial orbitofrontal and parahippocampal regions predicted pain sensitivity. Moreover, lateral orbitofrontal and cingulate areas showed strong positive associations with individual differences in motor reactivity but negative associations with autonomic reactivity. Notably, individual differences in OFC activation was almost fully accounted by the combination of individual measures of autonomic and motor reactivity (R(2)=0.93). Additionally, trial-to-trial fluctuations of RIII-reflex and SCR (within-subjects) were proportional to shock-evoked responses in subgenual cingulate cortex (RIII), anterior insula (SCR) and midcingulate cortex (SCR and RIII). Together, these results confirm that individual differences in perceptual, motor, and autonomic components of pain reflect robust individual differences in brain activity. Furthermore, the brain correlates of trial-to-trial fluctuations in pain responses provide additional evidence for a partial segregation of sub-systems involved more specifically in the ongoing monitoring, and possibly the regulation, of pain-related motor and autonomic responses.

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