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OBJECTIVE - Current models propose that the experience of pain includes both sensory and affective components. Our purpose was to use functional MR imaging to determine areas of the brain engaged by the affective dimension of pain.
SUBJECTS AND METHODS - Twelve healthy adults underwent functional MR imaging using a gradient-echo echoplanar technique while a cold pressor test, consisting of cold and pain tasks, was applied first to one foot and then to the other. The cold task involved the application of cold water (14-20 degrees C) that was not at a painful level. For the pain task, the water temperature was then lowered to a painful temperature (8-14 degrees C) and subsequently to the pain threshold (3-8 degrees C). Images acquired at room temperature before the cold and pain tasks served as a baseline task. Composite maps of brain activation were generated by comparing the baseline task with the cold task and the cold task with the pain task. The significance of signal changes was estimated by randomization of individual activation maps.
RESULTS - Cold-related activation (p < 0.01) was found in the postcentral gyrus bilaterally, laterally, and inferiorly to the primary motor-sensory area of the foot and at a site near the second somatosensory site. Activation also occurred in the frontal lobe (the bilateral middle frontal gyri and the right inferior frontal gyrus), the left anterior insula, the left thalamus, and the superior aspect of the anterior cingulate gyrus (seen at one slice location). Pain-related activation (p < 0.01) included the anterior cingulate gyrus (seen at four slice locations); the superior frontal gyrus, especially on the right; and the right cuneus.
CONCLUSION - Compared with the basic sensory processing of pain, the affective dimension of pain activates a cortical network that includes the right superior frontal gyrus, the right cuneus, and a large area of the anterior cingulate gyrus.