Activity in a brain area known as the dorsal posterior insula is directly related to the intensity of pain, a brain imaging study by experts at the University of Oxford has found.
Researchers at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain used a new brain imaging technique to look at people experiencing pain over many hours.
Activity in only one brain area, the dorsal posterior insula, reflected the participants’ ratings of how much the pain hurt.
These results, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could help detect pain in people with limited communication abilities, such as those in a coma, small children and dementia patients, a university release said.
“We have identified the brain area likely to be responsible for the core, it hurts, experience of pain,” said Irene Tracey, University of Oxford, whose team made the discovery.
“Pain is a complex, multidimensional experience, which causes activity in many brain regions involved with things like attention, feeling emotions such as fear, locating where the pain is, and so on.
But the dorsal posterior insula seems to be specific to the actual hurt level of pain itself.”
The research team tracked brain activity in 17 healthy volunteers who had a cream containing capsaicin (the active ingredient in chillies) applied onto their right leg, causing a burning sensation. The volunteers indicated how much this burning sensation hurt.