Representations of pleasant and painful touch
in the human orbitofrontal and cingulate cortices

Rolls ET, O'Doherty J, Kringelbach ML,
Francis S, Bowtell R, McGlone F.
Department of Experimental Psychology,
University of Oxford, South Parks Road,
Oxford OX1 3UD, UK.
Cereb Cortex. 2003 Mar;13(3):308-17.


The cortical areas that represent affectively positive and negative aspects of touch were investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) by comparing activations produced by pleasant touch, painful touch produced by a stylus, and neutral touch, to the left hand. It was found that regions of the orbitofrontal cortex were activated more by pleasant touch and by painful stimuli than by neutral touch and that different areas of the orbitofrontal cortex were activated by the pleasant and painful touches. The orbitofrontal cortex activation was related to the affective aspects of the touch, in that the somatosensory cortex (SI) was less activated by the pleasant and painful stimuli than by the neutral stimuli. This dissociation was highly significant for both the pleasant touch (P < 0.006) and for the painful stimulus (P < 0.02). Further, it was found that a rostral part of the anterior cingulate cortex was activated by the pleasant stimulus and that a more posterior and dorsal part was activated by the painful stimulus. Regions of the somatosensory cortex, including SI and part of SII in the mid-insula, were activated more by the neutral touch than by the pleasant and painful stimuli. Part of the posterior insula was activated only in the pain condition and different parts of the brainstem, including the central grey, were activated in the pain, pleasant and neutral touch conditions. The results provide evidence that different areas of the human orbitofrontal cortex are involved in representing both pleasant touch and pain, and that dissociable parts of the cingulate cortex are involved in representing pleasant touch and pain.
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