Supraspinal Modulation of Trigeminal Nociception and Pain


  • Conflict of Interest: None

Jamie L. Rhudy, PhD, University of Tulsa—Psychology, Tulsa, 800 South Tucker Drive, OK, 74104, USA.


Objective.— This study examined modulation of trigeminal pain/nociception by 2 supraspinal mechanisms: emotional controls of nociception and diffuse noxious inhibitory controls.

Background.— Prior research suggests emotional picture viewing (emotional controls) and tonic noxious stimuli (diffuse noxious inhibitory controls) engage supraspinal mechanisms to modulate pain and nociceptive processes. It is currently unknown, however, whether emotional controls modulate trigeminal pain and nociception. Additionally, the influences of emotional controls and diffuse noxious inhibitory controls have not been compared in the same group of participants.

Methods.— Noxious electrodermal stimuli were delivered to the trigeminal nerve using a concentric electrode designed to selectively activate nociceptive fibers. Trigeminal nociception and pain were assessed (34 participants) from the nociceptive blink reflex and pain ratings, respectively. Emotional controls were engaged by presentation of standardized picture stimuli (pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant) shown to reliably evoke pleasure-induced inhibition and displeasure-induced facilitation of pain and nociception. Diffuse noxious inhibitory controls were engaged with a forearm ischemia task.

Results.— Trigeminal pain (self-report ratings) and nociception (blinks) were facilitated by unpleasant pictures and inhibited by pleasant pictures. Emotion induction (as assessed from trend analysis) explained 51% of the variance in trigeminal pain and 25% of the variance in trigeminal nociception. Additionally, forearm ischemia inhibited trigeminal pain but not nociception. The baseline vs ischemia comparison explained 17% of the variance in pain report and 0.1% of the variance in blinks. Supraspinal modulation by emotional controls and diffuse noxious inhibitory controls were uncorrelated.

Conclusions.— Emotional controls and diffuse noxious inhibitory controls modulated trigeminal pain and emotional controls modulated trigeminal nociception. These procedures can be used to study supraspinal modulation of nociceptive processing in disorders of the trigeminal pain system, including headache.