Quantification of pain-induced changes in cerebral blood flow by perfusion MRI

Pain. 2008 May;136(1-2):85-96. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.06.021. Epub 2007 Aug 22.


The purpose of this study was to assess if the functional activation caused by painful stimuli could be detected with arterial spin labeling (ASL), which is a non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique for measuring cerebral blood flow (CBF). Because ASL directly measures blood flow, it is well suited to pain conditions that are difficult to assess with current functional MRI, such as chronic pain. However, the use of ASL in neuroimaging has been hampered by its low sensitivity. Recent improvements in MRI technology, namely increased magnetic field strengths and phased array receiver coils, should enable ASL to measure the small changes in CBF associated with pain. In this study, healthy volunteers underwent two ASL imaging sessions, during which a painful thermal stimulus was applied to the left hand. The results demonstrated that the ASL technique measured changes in regional CBF in brain regions that have been previously identified with pain perception. These included bilateral CBF changes in the insula, secondary somatosensory, and cingulate cortices, as well as the supplementary motor area (SMA). Also observed were contralateral primary somatosensory and ipsilateral thalamic CBF changes. The average change in CBF for all regions of interest was 3.68ml/100g/min, ranging from 2.97ml/100g/min in ipsilateral thalamus to 4.91ml/100g/min in contralateral insula. The average resting global CBF was 54+/-9.7ml/100g/min, and there was no change in global CBF due to the noxious thermal stimulus.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography / methods*
  • Male
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Spin Labels


  • Spin Labels