Visceral hypersensitivity in gastric fundus is a possible pathogenesis for functional dyspepsia. The cortical representation of gastric fundus is still unclear. Growing evidence shows that the insula, but not the primary or secondary somatosensory region (SI or SII), may be the cortical target for visceral pain. Animal studies have also demonstrated that amygdala plays an important role in processing visceral pain. We used fMRI to study central projection of stomach pain from fundus balloon distension. We also tested the hypothesis that there will be neither S1 nor S2 activation, but amygdala activation with the fundus distension. A 3T-fMRI was performed on 10 healthy subjects during baseline, fullness (12.7 +/- 0.6 mmHg) and moderate gastric pain (17.0 +/- 0.8 mmHg). fMRI signal was modelled by convolving the predetermined psychophysical response. Statistical comparisons were performed between conditions on a group level. Gastric pain activated a wide range of cortical and subcortical structures, including thalamus and insula, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, basal ganglia, caudate nuclei, amygdala, brain stem, cerebellum and prefrontal cortex (P < 0.001). A subset of these neuronal substrates was engaged in the central processing of fullness sensation. SI and SII were not activated during the fundus stimulation. In conclusion, the constellation of neuronal structures activated by fundus distension overlaps the pain matrices induced musculocutaneous pain, with the exception of the absence of SI or SII activation. This may account for the vague nature of visceral sensation/pain. Our data also confirms that the insula and amygdala may act as the central role in visceral sensation/pain, as well as in the proposed sensory-limbic model of learning and memory of pain.
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