Somatotopic Representation of Nociceptive Information in the Putamen: An Event-related fMRI Study

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The ability to locate pain plays a pivotal role in immediate defence and withdrawal behaviour. However, it is unclear to what extent nociceptive information is relayed to and processed in subcortical structures relevant for motor preparation and possibly the generation of withdrawal behaviour. We used single-trial functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess whether nociceptive information is represented in the putamen in a somatotopic manner. We therefore applied thulium–YAG laser-evoked pain stimuli, which had no concomitant tactile component, to the dorsum of the left hand and foot to 15 healthy subjects in a randomized order. In addition, 11 subjects were stimulated on the right body side. Differential representations of hand- and foot-related blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) responses within the putamen were assessed using a single subject approach. Nociceptive stimuli significantly activated the putamen bilaterally. However, a somatotopic organization for hand- and foot-related responses was only present in the contralateral putamen. Here the foot was located anteriorly and medially to the hand, which parallels results from anatomical and microstimulation studies in monkeys and also human imaging data on the arrangement of movement related activity in the putamen. This result provides evidence for the hypothesis that behaviourally relevant nociceptive information without additional information from the tactile system is represented in the putamen and made available for pain related motor responses.

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