An fMRI study of cerebral processing of brush-evoked allodynia in neuropathic pain patients.
Schweinhardt P., Glynn C., Brooks J., McQuay H., Jack T., Chessell I., Bountra C., Tracey I.
Previous human imaging studies have revealed a network of brain regions involved in the processing of allodynic pain; this includes prefrontal areas, insula, cingulate cortex, primary and secondary somatosensory cortices and parietal association areas. In this study, the neural correlates of the perceived intensity of allodynic pain in neuropathic pain patients were investigated. In eight patients, dynamic mechanical allodynia was provoked and brain responses recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Voxels in which the magnitude of fMRI signal correlated linearly with the ratings of allodynic pain across the group were determined in a whole brain analysis using a general linear model. To ensure that activation reflected only allodynic pain ratings, a nuisance variable containing ratings of ongoing pain was included in the analysis. We found that the magnitude of activation in the caudal anterior insula (cAI) correlates with the perceived intensity of allodynic pain across subjects, independent of the level of ongoing pain. However, the peak of activation in the allodynic condition was located in the rostral portion (rAI). This matches the representation of other clinical pain syndromes, confirmed by a literature review. In contrast, experimental pain in healthy volunteers resides predominantly in the cAI, as shown by the same literature review. Taken together, our data and the literature review suggest a functional segregation of anterior insular cortex.