Dr Ben Seymour, Computational and Biological Learning Lab, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1PZ


Center for Information and Neural Networks, National Institute for Information and Communications Technology (NICT), 1-3 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.

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How much of the pain BOLD response is actually pain?

In a recent article, Moulton and colleagues illustrate that interpreting blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) responses in studies of human pain is a bit more complicated than often recognised. In particular, their study probes two important factors:

1) painful and non-painful thermal sensation have a non-identical cortical representation, and this lack of clear disambiguation in previous studies may have led to over interpretation of the role of S2 in pain, 

2) the time course of BOLD response is not necessarily a clear-cut haemodynamic impulse response – there is emerging evidence of early and late phase responses, which may subserve different functions. Of note, perceptual ratings correlate better with late phase response.

This latter point is especially interesting, since it really isn't obvious what at an information processing level the pain system would be doing during a late phase that isn't/can't be done early. This should stimulate some interesting new research, as well as appeal to other methodologies such as electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) which give better temporal precision.

[1] Moulton EA, Pendse G, Becerra LR, Borsook D. BOLD responses in somatosensory cortices better reflect heat sensation than pain. J Neurosci. 2012 Apr 25; 32(17): 6024-31

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