A longitudinal study of somesthetic perceptual disorders in an individual with a unilateral thalamic lesion

J. D. Greenspan, S. E. Joy, S. L.B. McGillis, C. M. Checkosky, S. J. Bolanowski

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8 Scopus citations


Several aspects of tactile, thermal and pain perception were evaluated in an individual (R.S.) with a hemorrhagic lesion centered in her left lateral thalamus. Over a 4-year period, psychophysical evaluations were undertaken every 6-8 months, and five magnetic resonance (MR) studies were conducted. Early tests (1991-1992) revealed large contralateral deficits in R.S.'s perception of touch, innocuous temperature, and mechanically evoked cutaneous pain -more so for the upper versus the lower extremity. R.S. showed a similar pattern for heat pain sensitivity, but a more modest deficit than for mechanically evoked pain. She showed a deficit for cold pain sensitivity on her foot, but not for her hand. Thresholds for all types of stimuli ipsilateral to the lesion were within a normative range. Late in 1993, R.S. demonstrated improvements in sensory capacity for touch and mechanically evoked pain contralaterally, although deficits were still evident. During the same period, heat pain sensitivity improved contralaterally, and strikingly, a permanent, ipsilateral hypersensitivity to heat pain developed in her hand. Throughout the entire testing period, R.S.'s ratings of perceived unpleasantness matched the patterns of perceived pain intensity. Thus, the discriminative and the affective dimensions of her pain would change in tandem. However, perceptible innocuous thermal stimuli evoked no affective response when applied contralaterally, despite being described as pleasant when presented ipsilaterally. Throughout the testing period, R.S. reported a persistent numbness on her right hemi-body. Only during a 3-month period in 1995 did she experience spontaneous pain, which was referred to her right foot. The only change in psychophysical performance related to her right foot was a transient but intense thermal allodynia several months prior to her spontaneous pain. The MR studies over this 4-year period showed changes in the extent of edema, gliosis and/or ischemia that could be related to perceptual changes. Thus, the conspicuous observations in this thalamic lesion case were: (i) differential effects upon the various pain modalities (mechanical, heat and cold); (ii) development of thermal allodynia without mechanical allodynia, including an ipsilateral effect; (iii) a deficit in positive affective responses to temperature; and (iv) the different time courses for changes in evoked somesthetic capacity versus spontaneous paresthesias and pathological pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain lesion
  • Pain
  • Psychophysics
  • Temperature perception
  • Thalamus
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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