Expectation of pain enhances responses to nonpainful somatosensory stimulation in the anterior cingulate cortex and parietal operculum/posterior insula: an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study.
Although behavioral studies suggest that pain distress may alter the perception of somatic stimulation, neural correlates underlying such alteration remain to be clarified. The present study was aimed to test the hypothesis that expectation of pain might amplify brain responses to somatosensory stimulation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the region including parietal operculum and posterior insula (PO/PI), both of which may play roles in regulating pain-dependent behavior. We compared brain responses with and subjective evaluation of physically identical nonpainful warm stimuli between two psychologically different contexts: one linked with pain expectation by presenting the nonpainful stimuli randomly intermixed with painful stimuli and the other without. By applying the event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging technique, brain responses to the stimuli were assessed with respect to signal changes and activated volume, setting regions of interest on activated clusters in ACC and bilateral PO/PI defined by painful stimuli. As a result, the uncertain expectation of painful stimulus enhanced transient brain responses to nonpainful stimulus in ACC and PO/PI. The enhanced responses were revealed as a higher intensity of signal change in ACC and larger volume of activated voxels in PO/PI. Behavioral measurements demonstrated that expectation of painful stimulus amplified perceived unpleasantness of innocuous stimulus. From these findings, it is suggested that ACC and PO/PI are involved in modulation of affective aspect of sensory perception by the uncertain expectation of painful stimulus.