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The pain matrix reloaded: a salience detection system for the body.

Progress in Neurobiology

physiology, Dangerous Behavior, Humans, Pain, physiopathology, Pain Measurement, Perception, Signal Transduction, Somatosensory Cortex, anatomy & histology, Attention

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      Abstract

      Neuroimaging and neurophysiological studies have shown that nociceptive stimuli elicit responses in an extensive cortical network including somatosensory, insular and cingulate areas, as well as frontal and parietal areas. This network, often referred to as the "pain matrix", is viewed as representing the activity by which the intensity and unpleasantness of the perception elicited by a nociceptive stimulus are represented. However, recent experiments have reported (i) that pain intensity can be dissociated from the magnitude of responses in the "pain matrix", (ii) that the responses in the "pain matrix" are strongly influenced by the context within which the nociceptive stimuli appear, and (iii) that non-nociceptive stimuli can elicit cortical responses with a spatial configuration similar to that of the "pain matrix". For these reasons, we propose an alternative view of the functional significance of this cortical network, in which it reflects a system involved in detecting, orienting attention towards, and reacting to the occurrence of salient sensory events. This cortical network might represent a basic mechanism through which significant events for the body's integrity are detected, regardless of the sensory channel through which these events are conveyed. This function would involve the construction of a multimodal cortical representation of the body and nearby space. Under the assumption that this network acts as a defensive system signaling potentially damaging threats for the body, emphasis is no longer on the quality of the sensation elicited by noxious stimuli but on the action prompted by the occurrence of potential threats. Copyright © 2010. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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      We review evidence for partially segregated networks of brain areas that carry out different attentional functions. One system, which includes parts of the intraparietal cortex and superior frontal cortex, is involved in preparing and applying goal-directed (top-down) selection for stimuli and responses. This system is also modulated by the detection of stimuli. The other system, which includes the temporoparietal cortex and inferior frontal cortex, and is largely lateralized to the right hemisphere, is not involved in top-down selection. Instead, this system is specialized for the detection of behaviourally relevant stimuli, particularly when they are salient or unexpected. This ventral frontoparietal network works as a 'circuit breaker' for the dorsal system, directing attention to salient events. Both attentional systems interact during normal vision, and both are disrupted in unilateral spatial neglect.
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          Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain.

          Our ability to have an experience of another's pain is characteristic of empathy. Using functional imaging, we assessed brain activity while volunteers experienced a painful stimulus and compared it to that elicited when they observed a signal indicating that their loved one--present in the same room--was receiving a similar pain stimulus. Bilateral anterior insula (AI), rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), brainstem, and cerebellum were activated when subjects received pain and also by a signal that a loved one experienced pain. AI and ACC activation correlated with individual empathy scores. Activity in the posterior insula/secondary somatosensory cortex, the sensorimotor cortex (SI/MI), and the caudal ACC was specific to receiving pain. Thus, a neural response in AI and rostral ACC, activated in common for "self" and "other" conditions, suggests that the neural substrate for empathic experience does not involve the entire "pain matrix." We conclude that only that part of the pain network associated with its affective qualities, but not its sensory qualities, mediates empathy.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            21040755
            10.1016/j.pneurobio.2010.10.005

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