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Journal Article

Temporal-spectral signaling of sensory information and expectations in the cerebral processing of pain


Eippert,  Falk
Max Planck Research Group Pain Perception, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Nickel, M. M., Tiemann, L., Hohn, V. D., May, E. S., Gil Ávila, C., Eippert, F., et al. (2022). Temporal-spectral signaling of sensory information and expectations in the cerebral processing of pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(1): e2116616119. doi:10.1073/pnas.2116616119.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-FBCA-9
The perception of pain is shaped by somatosensory information about threat. However, pain is also influenced by an individual's expectations. Such expectations can result in clinically relevant modulations and abnormalities of pain. In the brain, sensory information, expectations (predictions), and discrepancies thereof (prediction errors) are signaled by an extended network of brain areas which generate evoked potentials and oscillatory responses at different latencies and frequencies. However, a comprehensive picture of how evoked and oscillatory brain responses signal sensory information, predictions, and prediction errors in the processing of pain is lacking so far. Here, we therefore applied brief painful stimuli to 48 healthy human participants and independently modulated sensory information (stimulus intensity) and expectations of pain intensity while measuring brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG). Pain ratings confirmed that pain intensity was shaped by both sensory information and expectations. In contrast, Bayesian analyses revealed that stimulus-induced EEG responses at different latencies (the N1, N2, and P2 components) and frequencies (alpha, beta, and gamma oscillations) were shaped by sensory information but not by expectations. Expectations, however, shaped alpha and beta oscillations before the painful stimuli. These findings indicate that commonly analyzed EEG responses to painful stimuli are more involved in signaling sensory information than in signaling expectations or mismatches of sensory information and expectations. Moreover, they indicate that the effects of expectations on pain are served by brain mechanisms which differ from those conveying effects of sensory information on pain.