Pain-related cerebral activation is altered by a distracting cognitive task

Pain. 2000 Mar;85(1-2):19-30. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(99)00232-8.


It has previously been suggested that the activity in sensory regions of the brain can be modulated by attentional mechanisms during parallel cognitive processing. To investigate whether such attention-related modulations are present in the processing of pain, the regional cerebral blood flow was measured using [(15)O]butanol and positron emission tomography in conditions involving both pain and parallel cognitive demands. The painful stimulus consisted of the standard cold pressor test and the cognitive task was a computerised perceptual maze test. The activations during the maze test reproduced findings in previous studies of the same cognitive task. The cold pressor test evoked significant activity in the contralateral S1, and bilaterally in the somatosensory association areas (including S2), the ACC and the mid-insula. The activity in the somatosensory association areas and periaqueductal gray/midbrain were significantly modified, i.e. relatively decreased, when the subjects also were performing the maze task. The altered activity was accompanied with significantly lower ratings of pain during the cognitive task. In contrast, lateral orbitofrontal regions showed a relative increase of activity during pain combined with the maze task as compared to only pain, which suggests the possibility of the involvement of frontal cortex in modulation of regions processing pain.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pressure
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed