Prolonged tonic pain in healthy humans disrupts intrinsic brain networks implicated in pain modulation

Timothy J. Meeker, Anne Christine Schmid, Michael L. Keaser, Shariq A. Khan, Rao P. Gullapalli, Susan G. Dorsey, Joel D. Greenspan, David A. Seminowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neural mechanisms of ongoing nociceptive processing in the human brain remain largely obscured by the dual challenge of accessing neural dynamics and safely applying sustained painful stimuli. Recently, pain-related neural processing has been measured using fMRI resting state functional connectivity (FC) in chronic pain patients. However, ongoing pain-related processing in normally pain-free humans remains incompletely understood. Therefore, differences between chronic pain patients and controls may be due to comorbidities with chronic pain. Decreased FC among regions of the descending pain modulation network (DPMN) are associated with presence and severity of chronic pain disorders. We aimed to determine if the presence of prolonged tonic pain would lead to disruption of the DPMN. High (10%) concentration topical capsaicin was combined with a warm thermode applied to the leg to create a flexible, prolonged tonic pain model to study the FC of brain networks in otherwise healthy, pain-free subjects in two separate cohorts (n=18; n=32). We contrasted seed-based FC during prolonged tonic pain with a pain-free passive task. In seed-based FC analysis prolonged tonic pain led to enhanced FC between the anterior middle cingulate cortex (aMCC) and the somatosensory leg representation. Additionally, FC was enhanced between the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC), right mediodorsal thalamus and the posterior parietal cortex bilaterally. Further, in the seed-driven PAG network, positive FC with the left DLPFC became negative FC during prolonged tonic pain. These data suggest that some altered DPMN FC findings in chronic pain could partially be explained by the presence of ongoing pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Aug 21 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Capsaicin-Heat Pain model
  • Central sensitization
  • Cingulate cortex
  • Descending pain modulatory network
  • Periaqueductal gray
  • Seed-driven functional connectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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