In two experiments including a total of 30 irritable bowel syndrome patients, symptom-mimicking rectal pressure stimuli elicited changes in regional neural activation as measured by positron electron tomography (PET) cerebral blood flow images. Although most stimuli were not rated as painful, rectal pressure increased regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in areas commonly associated with somatic pain, including the anterior cingulate, insula, prefrontal cortex, thalamus, and cerebellum. Despite similar stimulus ratings in male and female patients, regional activations were much stronger for males. In both experiments, rectal pressure activated the insula bilaterally in males but not in females. Insula activation was associated most strongly with objective visceral pressure, whereas anterior cingulate activation was associated more with correlated ratings of subjective discomfort. The insula is discussed as a visceral sensory cortex. Several possible reasons for the insula gender effect are proposed.
Copyright 2000 European Federation of Chapters of the International Association for the Study of Pain.