Fluctuations in electrodermal activity reveal variations in single trial brain responses to painful laser stimuli--a fMRI/EEG study

Neuroimage. 2009 Feb 1;44(3):1081-92. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.09.004. Epub 2008 Sep 20.


Pain is a complex experience with sensory, emotional and cognitive aspects. It also includes a sympathetic response that can be captured by measuring the electrodermal activity (EDA). The present study was performed to investigate which brain areas are associated with sympathetic activation in experimental pain; an issue that has not been addressed with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) thus far. Twelve healthy subjects received painful laser stimulation to the left hand. The event-related fMRI BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) response was measured together with simultaneous EEG (electroencephalography) and EDA recordings. Laser stimuli induced the expected EDA response, evoked EEG potentials and BOLD responses. Single trial EDA amplitudes were used to guide further analysis of fMRI and EEG data. We found significantly higher BOLD responses in trials with high EDA vs. low EDA trials, predominantly in the insula and somatosensory cortex (S1/S2). Likewise, in the EEG we found the N2 laser evoked potentials to have significantly higher amplitudes in trials with high vs. low EDA. Furthermore EDA-informed BOLD modeling explained additional signal variance in sensory areas and yielded higher group level activation. We conclude that the sympathetic response to pain is associated with activation in pain-processing brain regions, predominantly in sensory areas and that single trial (EDA)-information can add to BOLD modeling by taking some of the response variability across trials and subjects into account. Thus, EDA is a useful additional, objective index when pain is studied with fMRI/EEG which might be of particular relevance in the context of genetic- and pharmacoimaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lasers*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Threshold
  • Skin / innervation
  • Skin / physiopathology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*