Pain facilitates tactile processing in human somatosensory cortices.

Research paper by Markus M Ploner, Bettina B Pollok, Alfons A Schnitzler

Indexed on: 30 Apr '04Published on: 30 Apr '04Published in: Journal of neurophysiology


Touch and pain are intimately related modalities. Despite a substantial overlap in their cortical representations interactions between both modalities are largely unknown at the cortical level. We therefore used magnetoencephalography and selective nociceptive cutaneous laser stimulation to investigate the effects of brief painful stimuli on cortical processing of touch. Using a conditioning test stimulus paradigm, our results show that painful conditioning stimuli facilitate processing of tactile test stimuli applied 500 ms later. This facilitation applies to cortical responses later than 40 ms originating from primary (S1) and secondary (S2) somatosensory cortices but not to earlier S1 responses. By contrast, tactile conditioning stimuli yield a decrease of early as well as late responses to tactile test stimuli. Control experiments show that pain-induced facilitation of tactile processing is not restricted to the site of the painful conditioning stimulus, whereas auditory conditioning does not yield a comparable facilitation. Apart from a lack of spatial specificity, the facilitating effect of pain closely resembles attentional effects on cortical processing of tactile stimuli. Thus these findings may represent a physiological correlate of an alerting function of pain as a change in the internal state to prepare for processing signals of particular relevance.