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A signature of pain in the brain 

A signature of pain in the brain
A signature of pain in the brain

Pierre Rainville

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date: 27 October 2021

The discovery of pain biomarkers has profound implications for both pharmacology and neurobiology; in 2013, in the landmark paper discussed in this chapter, Wager et al. presented a neurologic signature of pain based on human brain imaging performed in healthy individuals administered experimental heat-pain stimuli. Using advanced analytic methods based on machine learning and multivariate pattern analysis, Wagner et al. provide very convincing support for the idea that pain is encoded in a distinctive pattern of brain activity in one or several brain areas typically referred to as the ‘pain matrix’, which acts as a saliency detection system for the body. Although the usage of such tool to infer pain in patients poses major challenges and is clearly not indicated in medico-legal contexts, the study provides experimental proof of concept in favour of a pattern theory of pain as well as for a specificity theory of pain.

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