PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Anesthesiology and Pain Management - Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience

The Human Operculo-Insular Cortex Is Pain-Preferentially but Not Pain-Exclusively Activated by Trigeminal and Olfactory Stimuli
Published: Thursday, April 05, 2012
Author: Jörn Lötsch et al.

by Jörn Lötsch, Carmen Walter, Lisa Felden, Ulrike Nöth, Ralf Deichmann, Bruno G. Oertel

Increasing evidence about the central nervous representation of pain in the brain suggests that the operculo-insular cortex is a crucial part of the pain matrix. The pain-specificity of a brain region may be tested by administering nociceptive stimuli while controlling for unspecific activations by administering non-nociceptive stimuli. We applied this paradigm to nasal chemosensation, delivering trigeminal or olfactory stimuli, to verify the pain-specificity of the operculo-insular cortex. In detail, brain activations due to intranasal stimulation induced by non-nociceptive olfactory stimuli of hydrogen sulfide (5 ppm) or vanillin (0.8 ppm) were used to mask brain activations due to somatosensory, clearly nociceptive trigeminal stimulations with gaseous carbon dioxide (75% v/v). Functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) images were recorded from 12 healthy volunteers in a 3T head scanner during stimulus administration using an event-related design. We found that significantly more activations following nociceptive than non-nociceptive stimuli were localized bilaterally in two restricted clusters in the brain containing the primary and secondary somatosensory areas and the insular cortices consistent with the operculo-insular cortex. However, these activations completely disappeared when eliminating activations associated with the administration of olfactory stimuli, which were small but measurable. While the present experiments verify that the operculo-insular cortex plays a role in the processing of nociceptive input, they also show that it is not a pain-exclusive brain region and allow, in the experimental context, for the interpretation that the operculo-insular cortex splay a major role in the detection of and responding to salient events, whether or not these events are nociceptive or painful.