Somatic and visceral sensation, including pain perception, can be studied noninvasively in humans with functional brain imaging techniques. Positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging have identified a series of cerebral regions involved in the processing of somatic pain, including the anterior cingulate, insular, prefrontal, inferior parietal, primary and secondary somatosensory, and primary motor and premotor cortices, the thalamus, hypothalamus, brain stem, and cerebellum. Experimental evidence supports possible specific roles for individual structures in processing the various dimensions of pain, such as encoding of affect in the anterior cingulate cortex. Visceral sensation has been examined in the setting of myocardial ischemia, distension of hollow viscera, and esophageal acidification. Although knowledge regarding somatic sensation is more extensive than the information available for visceral sensation, important similarities have emerged between cerebral representations of somatic and visceral pain.
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