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Hum Brain Mapp. 2016 Apr;37(4):1514-30. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23117. Epub 2016 Jan 29.

Intrinsic functional connectivity of periaqueductal gray subregions in humans.

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Division of Brain, Imaging & Behaviour Systems, Krembil Research Institute, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada.
Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.


The periaqueductal gray matter (PAG) is a key brain region of the descending pain modulation pathway. It is also involved in cardiovascular functions, anxiety, and fear; however, little is known about PAG subdivisions in humans. The aims of this study were to use resting-state fMRI-based functional connectivity (FC) to parcellate the human PAG and to determine FC of its subregions. To do this, we acquired resting-state fMRI scans from 79 healthy subjects and (1) used a data-driven method to parcellate the PAG, (2) used predefined seeds in PAG subregions to evaluate PAG FC to the whole brain, and (3) examined sex differences in PAG FC. We found that clustering of the left and right PAG yielded similar patterns of caudal, middle, and rostral subdivisions in the coronal plane, and dorsal and ventral subdivisions in the sagittal plane. FC analysis of predefined subregions revealed that the ventolateral(VL)-PAG was supfunctionally connected to brain regions associated with descending pain modulation (anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), upper pons/medulla), whereas the lateral (L) and dorsolateral (DL) subregions were connected with brain regions implicated in executive functions (prefrontal cortex, striatum, hippocampus). We also found sex differences in FC including areas implicated in pain, salience, and analgesia including the ACC and the insula in women, and the MCC, parahippocampal gyrus, and the temporal pole in men. The organization of the human PAG thus provides a framework to understand the circuitry underlying the broad range of responses to pain and its modulation in men and women.


PAG; descending pain modulation; fMRI; pain; parcellation; resting-state fMRI

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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