Send to

Choose Destination
Pain. 2015 Oct;156(10):1936-44. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000253.

Touch inhibits subcortical and cortical nociceptive responses.

Author information

aDepartment of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London, United Kingdom bInstitute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom cKey Laboratory of Cognition and Personality (Ministry of Education) and Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing, China.

Erratum in


The neural mechanisms of the powerful analgesia induced by touching a painful body part are controversial. A long tradition of neurophysiologic studies in anaesthetized spinal animals indicate that touch can gate nociceptive input at spinal level. In contrast, recent studies in awake humans have suggested that supraspinal mechanisms can be sufficient to drive touch-induced analgesia. To investigate this issue, we evaluated the modulation exerted by touch on established electrophysiologic markers of nociceptive function at both subcortical and cortical levels in humans. Aδ and C skin nociceptors were selectively activated by high-power laser pulses. As markers of subcortical and cortical function, we recorded the laser blink reflex, which is generated by brainstem circuits before the arrival of nociceptive signals at the cortex, and laser-evoked potentials, which reflect neural activity of a wide array of cortical areas. If subcortical nociceptive responses are inhibited by concomitant touch, supraspinal mechanisms alone are unlikely to be sufficient to drive touch-induced analgesia. Touch induced a clear analgesic effect, suppressed the laser blink reflex, and inhibited both Aδ-fibre and C-fibre laser-evoked potentials. Thus, we conclude that touch-induced analgesia is likely to be mediated by a subcortical gating of the ascending nociceptive input, which in turn results in a modulation of cortical responses. Hence, supraspinal mechanisms alone are not sufficient to mediate touch-induced analgesia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wolters Kluwer Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center