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Pain. 2011 May;152(5):1104-13. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.01.026. Epub 2011 Mar 5.

Affective brain regions are activated during the processing of pain-related words in migraine patients.

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  • 1Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Jena, Germany.


Several brain areas that constitute the neural matrix of pain can be activated by noxious stimuli and by pain-relevant cues, such as pictures, facial expressions, and pain-related words. Although chronic pain patients are frequently exposed to pain-related words, it remains unclear whether their pain matrix is specifically activated during the processing of such stimuli in comparison to healthy subjects. To answer this question, we compared the neural activations induced by verbal pain descriptors in a sample of migraine patients with activations in healthy controls using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants viewed pain-related adjectives and negative, non-pain-related adjectives that were matched for valence and arousal and were instructed to either generate mental images (imagination condition) or to count the number of vowels (distraction condition). In migraine patients, pain-related adjectives as compared with negative adjectives elicited increased activations in the left orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula during imagination and in the right secondary somatosensory cortex and posterior insula during distraction. More pronounced pain-related activation was observed in affective pain-related regions in the patient as compared with the control group during imagination. During distraction, no differential engagement of single brain structures in response to pain-related words could be observed between groups. Overall, our findings indicate that there is an involvement of brain regions associated with the affective and sensory-discriminative dimension of pain in the processing of pain-related words in migraine patients, and that the recruitment of those regions associated with pain-related affect is enhanced in patients with chronic pain experiences.

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