Frontoparietal mechanisms supporting attention to location and intensity of painful stimuli

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TOC summary

Frontoparietal mechanisms as well as early sensory cortices contribute to directed attention to specific features of painful stimuli, such as intensity or location.

Attention can profoundly shape the experience of pain. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms that support directed attention to nociceptive information. In the present study, subjects were cued to attend to either the spatial location or the intensity of sequentially presented pairs of painful heat stimuli during a delayed match-to-sample discrimination task. We hypothesized that attention-related brain activation would be initiated after the presentation of the attentional cue and would be sustained through the discrimination task. Conjunction analysis confirmed that bilateral portions of the posterior parietal cortex (intraparietal sulcus [IPS] and superior parietal lobule) exhibited this sustained activity during attention to spatial but not intensity features of pain. Analyses contrasting activation during spatial and intensity attention tasks revealed that the right IPS region of the posterior parietal cortex was consistently more activated across multiple phases of the spatial task. However, attention to either feature of the noxious stimulus was associated with activation of frontoparietal areas (IPS and frontal eye fields) as well as priming of the primary somatosensory cortex. Taken together, these results delineate the neural substrates that support selective amplification of different features of noxious stimuli for utilization in discriminative processes.

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