Gender differences in brain activity evoked by muscle and cutaneous pain: a retrospective study of single-trial fMRI data

Neuroimage. 2008 Feb 15;39(4):1867-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.10.045. Epub 2007 Nov 12.


Gender greatly influences pain processing. Not only do females display greater pain sensitivity, many chronic pain conditions affect females more than males. Although gender-based differences in pain sensitivity may be related to cultural and social factors, animal studies also reveal gender differences in pain sensitivity, suggesting that physiological factors may contribute to differences in the processing of pain in males and females. It has been recently reported that noxious cutaneous heat stimuli evoke gender-based differences in activity in some brain regions. Given that most chronic pain conditions, including those with gender bias are of "deep" origin (e.g. arising in muscle, joints or viscera), we investigated whether gender differences also exist in the central processing of muscle pain. In 24 healthy adults we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure signal intensity changes during muscle and cutaneous pain induced by intramuscular and subcutaneous injections of hypertonic saline, respectively. In addition to activating the "pain neuromatrix", i.e. cingulate, insular, somatosensory and cerebellar cortices, both muscle pain and cutaneous pain evoked gender-based differences in the mid-cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and cerebellar cortex. These differences may reflect differences in emotional processing of noxious information in men and women and may underlie the gender bias that exists in many chronic pain conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*