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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Apr 1;12(4):651-661. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw173.

Orbitofrontal cortex mediates pain inhibition by monetary reward.

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Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0C7, Canada.
Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0C7, Canada.
Department of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, J5 68159, Germany.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA.
Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0C7, Canada.


Pleasurable stimuli, including reward, inhibit pain, but the level of the neuraxis at which they do so and the cerebral processes involved are unknown. Here, we characterized a brain circuitry mediating pain inhibition by reward. Twenty-four healthy participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while playing a wheel of fortune game with simultaneous thermal pain stimuli and monetary wins or losses. As expected, winning decreased pain perception compared to losing. Inter-individual differences in pain modulation by monetary wins relative to losses correlated with activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC). When pain and reward occured simultaneously, mOFCs functional connectivity changed: the signal time course in the mOFC condition-dependent correlated negatively with the signal time courses in the rostral anterior insula, anterior-dorsal cingulate cortex and primary somatosensory cortex, which might signify moment-to-moment down-regulation of these regions by the mOFC. Monetary wins and losses did not change the magnitude of pain-related activation, including in regions that code perceived pain intensity when nociceptive input varies and/or receive direct nociceptive input. Pain inhibition by reward appears to involve brain regions not typically involved in nociceptive intensity coding but likely mediate changes in the significance and/or value of pain.


cognitive-emotional pain modulation; functional magnetic resonance imaging; pain biomarker; psychological pain modulation

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