Differential brain activation associated with laser-evoked burning and pricking pain: An event-related fMRI study

Dieuwke S. Veldhuijzen, Michael I. Nemenov, Michael Keaser, Jiachen Zhuo, Rao P. Gullapalli, Joel D. Greenspan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An important question remains as to how the brain differentially processes first (pricking) pain mediated by Aδ-nociceptors versus second (burning) pain mediated by C-nociceptors. In the present cross-over randomized, within-subjects controlled study, brain activity patterns were examined with event-related fMRI while pricking and burning pain were selectively evoked using a diode laser. Stimuli evoking equivalent pain intensities were delivered to the dorsum of the left foot. Different laser parameters were used to elicit pricking (60 ms pulse duration) and burning (2.0 s pulse duration) pain. Whole brain group analysis showed that several brain areas were commonly activated by pricking and burning pain, including bilateral thalamus, bilateral anterior insula, bilateral posterior parietal lobule, contralateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, ipsilateral cerebellum, and mid anterior cingulate cortex. These findings show that pricking and burning pain were associated with activity in many of the same nociceptive processing brain regions. This may be expected given that Aδ-and C-nociceptive signals converge to a great extent at the level of the dorsal horn. Other brain regions showed differential processing. Stronger activation in the pricking pain condition was found in the ipsilateral hippocampus, bilateral parahippocampal gyrus, bilateral fusiform gyrus, contralateral cerebellum and contralateral cuneus/parieto-occipital sulcus. Stronger activation in the burning pain condition was found in the ipsilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These differential activation patterns suggest preferential importance of Aδ-fiber signals versus C-fiber signals for these specific brain regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-113
Number of pages10
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Burning pain
  • Diode laser
  • Event-related fMRI
  • Pricking pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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