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Pain. 2016 Feb;157 Suppl 1:S67-71. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000387.

Functional brain imaging: what has it brought to our understanding of neuropathic pain? A special focus on allodynic pain mechanisms.

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aDepartment of Neurology, Pain Center, CHU de Saint-Etienne, Saint-Etienne, FrancebPRES de Lyon, Lyon, FrancecCERMEP, Lyon, FrancedINSERM U879, Lyon, FranceeUCB Lyon1, Lyon, FrancefUJM St-Etienne, Saint-Etienne, France.


Brain responses to nociception are well identified. The same is not true for allodynic pain, a strong painful sensation in response to touch or innocuous cold stimuli that may be experienced by patients with neuropathic pain. Brain (or spinal cord) reorganization that may explain this paradoxical perception still remains largely unknown. Allodynic pain is associated with abnormally increased activity in SII and in the anterior insular cortex, contralateral and/or ipsilateral to allodynia. Because a bilateral increase in activity has been repeatedly reported in these areas in nociceptive conditions, the observed activation during allodynia can explain that a physiologically nonpainful stimulus could be perceived by the damaged nervous system as a painful one. Both secondary somatosensory and insular cortices receive input from the thalamus, which is a major relay of sensory and spinothalamic pathways, the involvement of which is known to be crucial for the development of neuropathic pain. Both thalamic function and structure have been reported to be abnormal or impaired in neuropathic pain conditions including in the basal state, possibly explaining the spontaneous component of neuropathic pain. A further indication as to how the brain can create neuropathic pain response in SII and insular cortices stems from examples of diseases, including single-case reports in whom a focal brain lesion leads to central pain disappearance. Additional studies are required to certify the contribution of these areas to the disease processes, to disentangle abnormalities respectively related to pain and to deafferentation, and, in the future, to guide targeting of stimulation studies.

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