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J Pain. 2012 Jul;13(7):620-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2011.11.003. Epub 2012 Jan 13.

Awareness of temperature and pain sensation.

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EMG Unit, Neurology Department, Hospital Clínic, Institut d'Investigacio Biomedica August Pi i Sunyer-IDIBAPS, Facultad de Medicina, Universitat Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.


Evoked potentials (EPs) to radiant or contact heat pain stimuli reflect the synchronization of brain activity to noxious inputs. However, we do not know how they relate to conscious awareness (AW) of a sensation. In healthy volunteers, we determined the time of AW for thermal noxious and non-noxious sensory inputs and examined its correlation to parametric measures of vertex EPs. Subjects had to report the position of the hand of a Libet's clock at the moment they perceived either a laser or a thermode stimulus. AW was determined after subtracting the position of the clock hand at the moment of stimulus delivery from the one reported by the subject, in ms. Subjects estimated AW in all single trials, including those in which no EPs could be identified. Mean AW was estimated earlier than the corresponding EP latency for both types and intensities of stimuli. There was a weak but significant negative correlation of AW to EPs amplitude, which was higher than the correlation of AW to EPs latency. Our results indicate that the timing of AW is influenced by the subjective relevance of sensory inputs. This feature could be used for the analysis of cognitive aspects of pain processing.


This article presents a way to measure the subjective awareness of the sensation induced by a noxious heat stimulus, either radiant or contact, in healthy human subjects. This method could be used for the analysis of cognitive aspects of pain processing.

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