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Functional imaging techniques have allowed researchers to look within the brain, and revealed the cortical representation of pain. Initial experiments, performed in the early 1990s, revolutionized pain research, as they demonstrated that pain was not processed in a single cortical area, but in several distributed brain regions. Over the last decade, the roles of these pain centres have been investigated and a clearer picture has emerged of the medial and lateral pain system. In this brief article, we review the imaging literature to date that has allowed these advances to be made, and examine the new frontiers for pain imaging research: imaging the brainstem and other structures involved in the descending control of pain; functional and anatomical connectivity studies of pain processing brain regions; imaging models of neuropathic pain-like states; and going beyond the brain to image spinal function. The ultimate goal of such research is to take these new techniques into the clinic, to investigate and provide new remedies for chronic pain sufferers.

Original publication




Journal article


J Anat

Publication Date





19 - 33


Brain, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Neural Pathways, Nociceptors, Pain, Pain Threshold, Perception, Positron-Emission Tomography, Spine