Is society objective or subjective

04.06.2007 12:59

Pain - a highly subjective sensation: connections between brain activity and pain perception

Tanja Schmidhofer Press office
Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich

Pain is a very subjective sensation. How strong a certain pain stimulus is experienced depends on many factors: In which situation is the person affected currently? What experiences has he had in the past? In a current study published in the renowned journal PLoS Biology, researchers from the Klinikum rechts der Isar at the Technical University of Munich, together with colleagues, were able to show how subjective differences in pain perception are reflected in the activities of the brain.

The processing of relevant stimuli from our environment and their subjective evaluation have been repeatedly associated with oscillatory (rhythmic) nerve cell activity in the human brain in recent years. Such oscillations were observed in the gamma frequency range between 40 and 100 Hz, especially when perceiving particularly significant visual stimuli. It is therefore assumed that these gamma oscillations are involved in the subjective evaluation and selection of significant stimuli from the great variety of our environmental impressions. Since the perception of pain is highly subjective and particularly important for maintaining our health, one could assume that gamma oscillations should also be detectable here.

PD Dr. Markus Ploner, senior physician in the neurological clinic at Klinikum rechts der Isar, explains the research group's approach: "Over a period of time, we objectively applied equally strong, slightly painful stimuli to our test subjects at regular intervals. The test subjects were asked to evaluate the strength of these stimuli . Typically, their subjective assessment fluctuates during such an examination. At the same time, we measured the nerve cell activity in the brain. "
The study was able to show for the first time that the perception of pain actually causes gamma oscillations in the human brain. But not only the pain perception itself, but also the subjective assessment of the pain is reflected in this activity of the nerve cells. The extent of the gamma oscillations corresponded to the strength of the subjectively differently perceived pain - although the actual pain stimulus remained objectively always the same. Pain-related gamma oscillations seem to reflect our subjectively colored perception of pain particularly precisely.
Ploner sums up the significance of the research results: "We are convinced that these findings represent a significant contribution to our understanding of the subjective perception of pain. In addition, they contribute to the fundamental knowledge of the functional significance of gamma oscillations in the human brain."

Press contact:
Hospital right the Isar
Tanja Schmidhofer
Tel. 089/4140 2046
Fax 089/4140 4870
mail: [email protected]

Features of this press release:
Nutrition / health / care, medicine
Research results, scientific publications