Investigating the specificity of the neurologic pain signature against breathlessness and finger opposition

Pain. 2021 Dec 1;162(12):2933-2944. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002327.


Brain biomarkers of pain, including pain-predictive "signatures" based on brain activity, can provide measures of neurophysiological processes and potential targets for interventions. A central issue relates to the specificity of such measures, and understanding their current limits will both advance their development and explore potentially generalizable properties of pain to other states. Here, we used 2 data sets to test the neurologic pain signature (NPS), an established pain neuromarker. In study 1, brain activity was measured using high-field functional magnetic resonance imaging (7T fMRI, N = 40) during 5 to 25 seconds of experimental breathlessness (induced by inspiratory resistive loading), conditioned breathlessness anticipation, and finger opposition. In study 2, we assessed anticipation and breathlessness perception (3T, N = 19) under blinded saline (placebo) and remifentanil administration. The NPS responded to breathlessness, anticipation, and finger opposition, although no direct comparisons with painful events were possible. Local NPS patterns in anterior or midinsula, S2, and dorsal anterior cingulate responded to breathlessness and finger opposition and were reduced by remifentanil. Local NPS responses in the dorsal posterior insula did not respond to any manipulations. Therefore, significant global NPS activity alone is not specific for pain, and we offer insight into the overlap between NPS responses, breathlessness, and somatomotor demand.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Dyspnea
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pain*