Spatial Tuning in Nociceptive Processing Is Driven by Attention

Waclaw M. Adamczyk*, Michal Katra, Tibor M. Szikszay, James Peugh, Christopher D. King, Kerstin Luedtke, Robert C. Coghill

*Corresponding author for this work


When the source of nociception expands across a body area, the experience of pain increases due to the spatial integration of nociceptive information. This well-established effect is called spatial summation of pain (SSp) and has been the subject of multiple investigations. Here, we used cold-induced SSp to investigate the effect of attention on the spatial tuning of nociceptive processing. Forty pain-free volunteers (N = 40, 20 females) participated in this experiment. They took part in an SSp paradigm based on three hand immersions into cold water (5°C): Participants either immersed the radial segment (“a”), ulnar segment (“b”) or both hand segments (“a+b”) and provided overall pain ratings. In some trials based on “a+b” immersions, they were also asked to provide divided (ie, first pain in “a” then in “b”; or reversed) and directed attention ratings (ie, pain only in “a” or “b”). Results confirmed a clear SSp effect in which reported pain during immersions of “a” or “b” was less intense than pain during immersions of “a+b” (P < .001). Data also confirmed that spatial tuning was altered. SSp was abolished when participants provided two ratings in a divided fashion (P < .001). Furthermore, pain was significantly lower when attention was directed only to one segment (“a” OR “b”) during “a+b” immersion (P < .001). We conclude that spatial tuning is dynamically driven by attention as reflected in abolished SSp. Directed attention was sufficient to focus spatial tuning and abolish SSp. Results support the role of cognitive processes such as attention in spatial tuning. Perspective: This article presents experimental investigation of spatial tuning in pain and offers mechanistic insights of contiguous spatial summation of pain in healthy volunteers. Depending on how pain is evaluated in terms of attentional derivative (overall pain, directed, divided attention) the pain is reduced and spatial summation abolished.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1116-1125
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 06.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Health Sciences

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 206-05 Experimental Models for Investigating Diseases of the Nervous System
  • 205-04 Physiology
  • 206-03 Experimental and Theoretical Neurosciences of Networks

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