Dyspnea and pain share emotion-related brain network

Neuroimage. 2009 Oct 15;48(1):200-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.06.015. Epub 2009 Jun 12.


The early detection of stimuli signalling threat to an organism is a crucial evolutionary advantage. For example, the perception of aversive bodily sensations such as dyspnea and pain strongly motivates fast adaptive behaviour to ensure survival. Their similarly threatening and motivating characters led to the speculation that both sensations are mediated by common brain areas, which has also been suggested by neuroimaging studies on either dyspnea or pain. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we formally tested this hypothesis and compared the cortical processing of perceived heat pain and resistive load induced dyspnea in the same group of participants. Here we show that the perception of both aversive sensations is processed in similar brain areas including the insula, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala and medial thalamus. These areas have a documented role in the processing of emotions such as fear and anxiety. Thus, the current study highlights the role of a common emotion-related human brain network which underlies the perception of aversive bodily sensations such as dyspnea and pain. This network seems crucial for translating the threatening character of different bodily signals into behavioural consequences that promote survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Pain / physiopathology*