A regression analysis study of the primary somatosensory cortex during pain

Neuroimage. 2002 Aug;16(4):1142-50. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2002.1069.


Several functional imaging studies of pain, using a number of different experimental paradigms and a variety of reference states, have failed to detect activations in the somatosensory cortices, while other imaging studies of pain have reported significant activations in these regions. The role of the somatosensory areas in pain processing has therefore been debated. In the present study the left hand was immersed in painfully cold water (standard cold pressor test) and in nonpainfully cold water during 2 min, and PET-scans were obtained either during the first or the second minute of stimulation. We observed no significant increase of activity in the somatosensory regions when the painful conditions were directly compared with the control conditions. In order to better understand the role of the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) in pain processing we used a regression analysis to study the relation between a ROI (region of interest) in the somatotopic S1-area for the stimulated hand and other regions known to be involved in pain processing. We hypothesized that although no increased activity was observed in the S1 during pain, this region would change its covariation pattern during noxious input as compared to the control stimulation if it is involved in or affected by the processing of pain. In the nonpainful cold conditions widespread regions of the ipsilateral and contralateral somatosensory cortex showed a positive covariation with the activity in the S1-ROI. However, during the first and second minute of pain this regression was significantly attenuated. During the second minute of painful stimulation there was a significant positive covariation between the activity in the S1-ROI and the other regions that are known to be involved in pain processing. Importantly, this relation was significantly stronger for the insula and the orbitofrontal cortex bilaterally when compared to the nonpainful state. The results indicate that the S1-cortex may be engaged in or affected by the processing of pain although no differential activity is observed when pain is compared with the reference condition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Cold Temperature
  • Hand / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Immersion
  • Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Somatosensory Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed