NIH Research Festival
FARE Award Winner
Pain perception's specificity is disputed. Despite previous research identifying pain-specific neural patterns such as the neurologic pain signature (NPS) and the stimulus intensity independent pain signature (SIIPS), these activations often overlap with other salience experiences and a general negative affect pattern. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the anterior insula have been implicated in value-based learning and expectation across domains including pain. However, the expectation effect and underlying neural mechanisms across pain and both aversive and pleasant sensations lack direct investigation. In this study, we compared pain perception with both unpleasant and pleasant tastes (i.e., heat, salt, and sugar) in sixty participants during fMRI scanning. During conditioning, visual cues were paired with high-intensity (high cue) or low-intensity (low cue) stimulation. Each cue was then equally likely to be followed by its conditioned intensity or a medium intensity stimulus. Intensity and valence were rated after each stimulus. Participants reported higher intensity for medium stimuli preceded by high cues versus low cues. Cue-relevant anticipatory activation in OFC was observed across all groups. While the anterior insula mediated cue effects on intensity ratings for medium trials across all domains, distinct domain-specific effects were uncovered when examining the OFC's moderating role. Notably, the NPS and SIIPS demonstrated greater differentiation in the heat group compared to taste groups, while the affect pattern did not differ between the heat and salt groups. Our findings suggest that predictive cues engage both domain-general and domain-specific mechanisms in pain compared to taste perceptions.
Scientific Focus Area: Neuroscience
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