22 Oct2021

Functional neuroimaging approach to the cognitive neuroscience of pain

Functional neuroimaging approach to the cognitive  neuroscience of pain 

Ming-Tsung Tseng 

Associate Professor 

Graduate Institute of Brain and Mind Sciences 

National Taiwan University College of Medicine 

Taipei, Taiwan 


Pain is an inherently multi-faceted experience that includes sensory-discriminative,  emotional, and motivational components. The perception of pain is variable across  individuals, which depends on individuals’ cognitive state when they evaluate afferent  nociceptive information, as well as their cognitive modulation of pain processing. By  using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we revealed that there is a distinct  signature for the encoding of a painful experience in the human brain, and this  encoding process involves a strong affective component. Vigilance-related  enhancement in the parieto-thalamic attention network allows the prefrontal cortex to  estimate the relative intensity differences between noxious stimuli. Moreover,  aversive prediction error-related networks interact with pain-processing circuits to  underlie stimulus expectancy effects on pain. These cognitive evaluation and  modulation mechanisms not only play an adaptive and protective role by providing  sensory-discriminative information of painful stimuli for humans to cope with  potentially life-threatening situations, but enhance neuroscientific knowledge about top-down cognitive modulation of nociception. They may also serve as the neural  basis to decipher the neural mechanisms underpinning the cognitive dysfunctions  associated with pain processing in patients with chronic pain in the future.