The influence of simultaneous ratings on cortical BOLD effects during painful and non-painful stimulation

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Abstract

This fMRI study investigates the influence of a rating procedure on BOLD signals in common pain-activated cortical brain regions. Painful and non-painful mechanical impact stimuli were applied to the left hand of healthy volunteers. Subjects performed ratings of the perceived intensity during every second stimulation period by operating a visual analogue scale with the right hand. During every other stimulus period the subjects rested passively. Pain and touch stimuli were found to activate the same cortical areas previously defined as the “cortical pain matrix”. General Linear Models were used to calculate contrasts between cortical activations during the “rating” and “non-rating” paradigm. In most brain regions activation following pain and touch was stronger during “rating” compared to “non-rating” conditions. Only the responses in the S1 projection field of the stimulated hand following pain were not influenced by the rating procedure. Furthermore, activations in the right and left posterior insular cortex and in the left superior frontal gyrus showed an opposite pattern, namely a stronger BOLD signal during “non-rating”. We concluded: (1) Cortical areas regularly activated by painful stimuli may also be activated by touch stimulation. (2) Enhancement of the BOLD contrast by a rating procedure is probably an effect of closer stimulus evaluation and attention focussing. (3) In contrast to most other cortical regions, the posterior insular cortex, which is crucial for the integration of interoceptive afferent input, shows stronger responses in the absence of ratings, which points to a unique role of this region in the processing of somato-visceral information.

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