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Neurophysiology and Functional Neuroanatomy of Pain Perception

Schnitzler, A.; Ploner, M.

Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology: November 2000 - Volume 17 - Issue 6 - p 592-603
Review Articles

Summary The traditional view that the cerebral cortex is not involved in pain processing has been abandoned during the past decades based on anatomic and physiologic investigations in animals, and lesion, functional neuroimaging, and neurophysiologic studies in humans. These studies have revealed an extensive central network associated with nociception that consistently includes the thalamus, the primary (SI) and secondary (SII) somatosensory cortices, the insula, and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Anatomic and electrophysiologic data show that these cortical regions receive direct nociceptive thalamic input. From the results of human studies there is growing evidence that these different cortical structures contribute to different dimensions of pain experience. The SI cortex appears to be mainly involved in sensory-discriminative aspects of pain. The SII cortex seems to have an important role in recognition, learning, and memory of painful events. The insula has been proposed to be involved in autonomic reactions to noxious stimuli and in affective aspects of pain-related learning and memory. The ACC is closely related to pain unpleasantness and may subserve the integration of general affect, cognition, and response selection. The authors review the evidence on which the proposed relationship between cortical areas, pain-related neural activations, and components of pain perception is based.

Department of Neurology, Heinrich–Heine University, Düsseldorf, Germany

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Alfons Schnitzler, Department of Neurology, Heinrich–Heine University, Moorenstrasse. 5, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany; e-mail:

Supported by grants from the Volkswagen-Stiftung (I/73240), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 194), and the Ute-Huneke-Stiftung.

Copyright © 2000 American Clinical Neurophysiology Society