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Papers of the Week

Papers: 27 Aug 2022 - 2 Sep 2022


Human Studies

2022 Aug 29


Ongoing first-hand pain facilitates somatosensory resonance but inhibits affective sharing in empathy for pain.


Li X, Lou W, Zhang W, Tong R K-Y, Hu L, Peng W
Neuroimage. 2022 Aug 29:119599.
PMID: 36049698.


Alterations of empathy for others' pain among patients with chronic pain remained inconsistent. Here, applying a capsaicin-based ongoing pain model on healthy participants, this study investigated how ongoing first-hand pain influences empathic reactions to vicarious pain stimuli. Healthy participants were randomly treated with topical capsaicin cream (capsaicin group) or hand cream (control group) on the left forearm. Video clips showing limbs in painful and non-painful situations were used to induce empathic responses. The capsaicin group showed greater empathic neural responses in the right primary somatosensory cortex (S1) than the control group but smaller responses in the left anterior insula (AI) accompanied with smaller empathic pain-intensity ratings. Notably, the intensity of ongoing pain negatively correlated with empathy-related neural responses in the left AI. Inter-subject phase synchronization analysis was used to assess stimulus-dependent dynamic functional connectivity within or between brain regions engaged in pain empathy. The capsaicin group showed greater empathy-related neural synchronization within S1 and between S1 and AI, but less synchronization within AI and between AI and MCC. Behaviorally, the differential inter-subject pain-intensity rating alignment between painful and non-painful videos was more positive for the capsaicin group than for the control group, and this effect was partially mediated by the inter-subject neural synchronization between S1 and AI. These results suggest that ongoing first-hand pain facilitates neural activation and synchronization within brain regions associated with empathy-related somatosensory resonance at the cost of inhibiting activation and synchronization within brain regions engaged in empathy-related affective sharing.