Recently published data are shedding new light on the region of the brain that is likely responsible for the sensation of pain. 

Researchers at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain used a new brain imaging technique to look at 17 people experiencing pain. They said their research has enabled them to hone in on the “area likely to be responsible for the core, ‘it hurts’, experience of pain,” and that they hope this research may help detect pain in people with limited communication abilities, such as people living with dementia, or small children.

Volunteers enrolled in the study had a cream containing capsaicin applied onto their right leg, causing a burning sensation. Once the pain sensation began to fade, the researchers rekindled the sensation by putting a hot water bottle where the cream was applied. A few minutes later, the research team provided pain relief by switching to a cooling water bottle. The volunteers’ ratings of how much the pain hurt accordingly went up and then down.

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The researchers noted that activity changes in the dorsal posterior insula tracked these changes in the volunteers’ self-reported ratings of pain.

The research team plans to verify these results by attempting to switch off this brain region in relevant patients suffering from intractable pain. The team hopes that changing activity in the dorsal posterior insula will help to treat pain where other methods have failed.


1. Segerdahl AR, et al. Nat Neurosci.  2015; doi:10.1038/nn.3969