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Papers of the Week

Papers: 1 Jun 2019 - 7 Jun 2019


Human Studies


PLoS One



Subliminal emotional pictures are capable of modulating early cerebral responses to pain in fibromyalgia.


Peláez I, Ferrera D, Barjola P, Fernandes R, Mercado F
PLoS One. 2019; 14(6):e0217909.
PMID: 31166997.


Pain experience involves a complex relationship between sensory and both emotional and cognitive factors, which appear to be mediated by different neural pathways. Previous evidence has shown that whereas conscious processing of unpleasant stimuli enhances pain perception, the influence of emotions on pain under unaware conditions is much less known. The need to better characterise the relationship between pain processing and emotional factors is crucial for dealing with chronic pain conditions. Therefore, the present study aimed to explore the neural correlates relating to the influence of visual masking emotional stimulation on the processing of painful stimuli in chronic pain patients suffering from fibromyalgia (FM). Twenty FM and 22 healthy control (HC) women participated in the study. The experimental masking paradigm consisted of a rapid succession of two types of stimuli, where a masked picture (neutral, negative or pain-related) was followed by a laser stimulus (painful or not painful). LEP activity was recorded at sixty scalp electrodes. An LEP-amplitude approach was used to quantify the main cerebral waves linked to pain response. ANOVAs indicated that the posterior regions of the P1 component were sensitive to experimental manipulation (p<0.05). Specifically, FM patients showed higher amplitudes to painful stimuli preceded by pain-related pictures compared with painful trials preceded by other emotional pictures. The FM group also showed greater amplitudes than those in the HC group in P2a and P2b waves. In addition to the scalp data, at the neural level the posterior cingulate cortex, lingual gyrus and insular cortex showed higher activation in the FM group than in the HC group. Our findings show an early cerebral modulation of pain (as reflected by the P1) in FM patients, suggesting that only pain-related information, even when it is unconsciously perceived, is capable to enhance exogenous (automatic) attention, increasing the neural activity involved in processing painful stimulation. Further research is needed to fully understand unconscious emotional influences on pain in fibromyalgia.