Asymbolia for pain: a sensory-limbic disconnection syndrome

Ann Neurol. 1988 Jul;24(1):41-9. doi: 10.1002/ana.410240109.


We describe the behavioral and neuroanatomical features of asymbolia for pain occurring in 6 patients following unilateral hemispheric damage secondary to ischemic lesions in 5 and traumatic hematoma in 1. In the absence of primary sensory deficits, these 6 patients showed a lack of withdrawal and absent or inadequate emotional responses to painful stimuli applied over the entire body, as well as to threatening gestures. Five patients also failed to react to verbal menaces. Patients appeared unconcerned about the defect and seemed unable to learn appropriate escape or protective responses. Common associated abnormalities were rapidly resolving hemiparesis, cortical-type sensory loss, unilateral neglect, and body-schema disorders. Neuroradiological examination disclosed left hemispheric lesions in 4 patients and right hemispheric involvement in 2. Although lesion extension differed, the insular cortex was invariably damaged in all 6 patients. These findings suggest that insular damage may play a critical role in the development of the syndrome by interrupting connections between sensory cortices and the limbic system.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aphasia / pathology*
  • Aphasia, Wernicke / pathology*
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Infarction / pathology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pain / pathology*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Somatosensory Cortex / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed