Age-related differences in pain sensitivity and regional brain activity evoked by noxious pressure

Neurobiol Aging. 2010 Mar;31(3):494-503. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.04.012. Epub 2008 May 29.


Compared with young adults, older people report more chronic pain complaints, and show reduced tolerance to experimental pain. Atrophy of brain parenchyma in normal ageing is well documented, with grey matter reduction occurring across many regions known to be involved in pain processing. However, the functional consequences of these changes, in particular their contribution toward age-related differences in pain perception and report, are yet to be elucidated. The present study investigated the effects of ageing on supraspinal pain processing by comparing regional brain responses to noxious pressure stimulation in 15 young (aged 26+/-3 years) and 15 older (aged 79+/-4 years) adults. Both groups showed significant pain-related activity in a common network of areas including the insula, cingulate, posterior parietal and somatosensory cortices. However, compared with older adults, young subjects showed significantly greater activity in the contralateral putamen and caudate, which could not be accounted for by increased age-associated shrinkage in these regions. The age-related difference in pain-evoked activity seen in the present study may reflect reduced functioning of striatal pain modulatory mechanisms with advancing age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Pressure / adverse effects*
  • Psychophysics