While the rectum is innervated by visceral afferents, the anal canal is innervated by the somatosensory pudendal nerve. The representation of these two central domains of intestinal sensations in the human brain is largely unknown. Nonpainful pneumatic stimulation of the anal canal and the distal rectum using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed in eight healthy subjects. Subjective scaling of sensations revealed no differences in unpleasantness and pain during both stimuli. Both types of stimuli revealed fMRI activation in secondary somatosensory, insula, cingular gyrus, left inferior parietal, and right orbitofrontal cortex. Anal stimulation resulted in additional activation of primary sensory and motor cortex, supplementary motor area, and left cerebellum. We concluded that viscerorectal and somatosensory anal stimulation predominantly differ in their primary sensory activation and additional activation in motor areas. This motor response following aversive somatosensory stimuli may be caused by a reflexive avoidance reaction which is not observed after the more diffuse experienced visceral stimulation.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.