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Brain. 2011 Jul;134(Pt 7):1987-2004. doi: 10.1093/brain/awr117. Epub 2011 May 26.

The contribution of the putamen to sensory aspects of pain: insights from structural connectivity and brain lesions.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1010, USA.


Cerebral cortical activity is heavily influenced by interactions with the basal ganglia. These interactions occur via cortico-basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loops. The putamen is one of the major sites of cortical input into basal ganglia loops and is frequently activated during pain. This activity has been typically associated with the processing of pain-related motor responses. However, the potential contribution of putamen to the processing of sensory aspects of pain remains poorly characterized. In order to more directly determine if the putamen can contribute to sensory aspects of pain, nine individuals with lesions involving the putamen underwent both psychophysical and functional imaging assessment of perceived pain and pain-related brain activation. These individuals exhibited intact tactile thresholds, but reduced heat pain sensitivity and widespread reductions in pain-related cortical activity in comparison with 14 age-matched healthy subjects. Using magnetic resonance imaging to assess structural connectivity in healthy subjects, we show that portions of the putamen activated during pain are connected not only with cortical regions involved in sensory-motor processing, but also regions involved in attention, memory and affect. Such a framework may allow cognitive information to flow from these brain areas to the putamen where it may be used to influence how nociceptive information is processed. Taken together, these findings indicate that the putamen and the basal ganglia may contribute importantly to the shaping of an individual subjective sensory experience by utilizing internal cognitive information to influence activity of large areas of the cerebral cortex.

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