Specificity of hemodynamic brain responses to painful stimuli: a functional near-infrared spectroscopy study

Sci Rep. 2015 Mar 30;5:9469. doi: 10.1038/srep09469.


Assessing pain in individuals not able to communicate (e.g. infants, under surgery, or following stroke) is difficult due to the lack of non-verbal objective measures of pain. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) being a portable, non-invasive and inexpensive method of monitoring cerebral hemodynamic activity has the potential to provide such a measure. Here we used functional NIRS to evaluate brain activation to an innocuous and a noxious electrical stimulus on healthy human subjects (n = 11). For both innocuous and noxious stimuli, we observed a signal change in the primary somatosensory cortex contralateral to the stimulus. The painful and non-painful stimuli can be differentiated based on their signal size and profile. We also observed that repetitive noxious stimuli resulted in adaptation of the signal. Furthermore, the signal was distinguishable from a skin sympathetic response to pain that tended to mask it. Our results support the notion that functional NIRS has a potential utility as an objective measure of pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Neurovascular Coupling / physiology*
  • Pain / blood
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / metabolism
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared