Attentional modulation of visceral and somatic pain

Journal: Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2007 Jul;19(7):569-77.

Authors and affiliations: Dunckley P, Aziz Q, Wise RG, Brooks J, Tracey I, Chang L. Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Oxford, UK, and Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

PMID: 17593138

A better understanding of the cortical processes underlying attentional modulation of visceral and somatic pain in health are essential for interpretation of future imaging studies of hypervigilance towards bodily sensations which is considered to be an aetiologically important factor in the heightened pain reported by patients with irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Twelve healthy subjects were recruited for this study. Simultaneous trains of electrical pulses (delivered to either the rectum or lower abdomen) and auditory tones lasting 6 s were delivered to the subjects during a whole-brain functional scan acquisition.

Subjects were instructed to attend to the auditory tones (distracter task) or electrical pulses (pain task).

Pain intensity ratings were significantly lower during the distraction task compared with the pain task (P < 0.01) in both sensory modalities.

The left primary somatosensory cortex increased in activity with increasing pain report, during attention to visceral pain.

Bilateral anterior insula (aIns) cortex activity increased with increasing somatic pain report independent of the direction of attention.

Conversely, the primary and secondary auditory cortices significantly increased in activation with decreased pain report.

These results suggest that pain intensity perception during attentional modulation is reflected in the primary somatosensory cortex (visceral pain) and aIns cortex activity (somatic pain).

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