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Papers of the Week

Papers: 2 Mar 2019 - 8 Mar 2019

Human Studies

2019 May 01

J Neurophysiol



No temporal contrast enhancement of simple decreases in noxious heat.


Beck B, Gnanasampanthan S, Iannetti GD, Haggard P
J Neurophysiol. 2019 May 01; 121(5):1778-1786.
PMID: 30840535.


Offset analgesia (OA) studies have found that small decreases in the intensity of a tonic noxious heat stimulus yield a disproportionately large amount of pain relief. In the classic OA paradigm, the decrease in stimulus intensity is preceded by an increase of equal size from an initial noxious level. While the majority of researchers believe this temporal sequence of two changes is important for eliciting OA, it has also been suggested that the temporal contrast mechanism underlying OA may enhance detection of simple, isolated decreases in noxious heat. To test whether decreases in noxious heat intensity, by themselves, are perceived better than increases of comparable sizes, we used an adaptive two-interval alternative forced choice task to find perceptual thresholds for increases and decreases in radiant and contact heat. Decreases in noxious heat were more difficult to perceive than increases of comparable sizes from the same initial temperature of 45°C. In contrast, decreases and increases were perceived equally well within a common range of noxious temperatures (i.e., when increases started from 45°C and decreases started from 47°C). In another task, participants rated the pain intensity of heat stimuli that randomly and unpredictably increased, decreased or remained constant. Ratings of unpredictable stimulus decreases also showed no evidence of perceptual enhancement. Our results demonstrate that there is no temporal contrast enhancement of simple, isolated decreases in noxious heat intensity. Combined with previous OA findings, they suggest that long-lasting noxious stimuli that follow an increase-decrease pattern may be important for eliciting the OA effect.