Cerebral responses to noxious thermal stimulation in chronic low back pain patients and normal controls

Neuroimage. 2002 May;16(1):158-68. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2002.1066.


Changes in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) have previously been demonstrated in a number of cortical and subcortical regions, including the cerebellum, midbrain, thalamus, lentiform nucleus, and the insula, prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and parietal cortices, in response to experimental noxious stimuli. Increased anterior cingulate responses in patients with chronic regional pain and depression to noxious stimulation distant from the site of clinical pain have been observed. We suggested that this may represent a generalized hyperattentional response to noxious stimuli and may apply to other types of chronic regional pain. Here these techniques are extended to a group of patients with nonspecific chronic low back pain. Thirty-two subjects, 16 chronic low back pain patients and 16 controls, were studied using positron emission tomography. Thermal stimuli, corresponding to the experience of hot, mild, and moderate pain, were delivered to the back of the subject's right hand using a thermal probe. Each subject had 12 measurements of rCBF, 4 for each stimulus. Correlation of rCBF with subjective pain experience revealed similar responses across groups in the cerebellum, midbrain (including the PAG), thalamus, insula, lentiform nucleus, and midcingulate (area 24') cortex. These regions represented the majority of activations for this study and those recorded by other imaging studies of pain. Although some small differences were observed between the groups these were not considered sufficient to suggest abnormal nociceptive processing in patients with nonspecific low back pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed