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We present a method for investigating the dynamic pharmacological modulation of pain-related brain activity, measured by BOLD-contrast fMRI. Noxious thermal stimulation was combined with a single infusion and washout of remifentanil, a short-acting opioid analgesic agent. The temporal profile of the effect site concentration of remifentanil, estimated from a pharmacokinetic model, was incorporated into a linear model of the fMRI data. The methodology was tested in nine healthy male subjects. During each imaging session the subjects received noxious thermal stimulation to the back of the left hand, prior to infusion, during infusion to a remifentanil effect site concentration of 1.0 ng/ml, and during washout of the remifentanil. Infusions were repeated with saline. Remifentanil-induced analgesia was confirmed from subjective pain intensity scores. Pain-related brain activity was identified in a matrix of regions using a linear model of the transient BOLD responses to noxious stimulation. Of those regions, there was a significant fractional reduction in the amplitude of the pain-related BOLD response in the insular cortex contralateral to the stimulus, the ipsilateral insular cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex. Statistical parametric mapping of the component of pain-related BOLD responses that was linearly scaled by remifentanil concentration confirmed the contralateral insular cortex as the pain-processing region most significantly modulated by remifentanil compared to saline. The mapping of specific modulation of pain-related brain activity is directly relevant for understanding pharmacological analgesia. The method of examining time-dependent pharmacological modulation of specific brain activity may be generalized to other drugs that modulate brain activity other than that associated with pain.


Journal article



Publication Date





999 - 1014


Analgesics, Opioid, Brain, Brain Mapping, Cerebrovascular Circulation, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Models, Neurological, Oxygen, Pain, Pain Measurement, Piperidines, Time Factors