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Open Access Review

The amygdala between sensation and affect: a role in pain

Pierre Veinante12*, Ipek Yalcin12 and Michel Barrot12

Author Affiliations

1 Institut des Neurosciences Cellulaires et Intégratives, UPR3212, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 21 Rue René Descartes, 67084, Strasbourg Cedex, France

2 Université de Strasbourg, 21 Rue René Descartes, 67084, Strasbourg Cedex, France

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Journal of Molecular Psychiatry 2013, 1:9  doi:10.1186/2049-9256-1-9

Published: 5 June 2013

Abstract

The amygdala is a structure of the temporal lobe thought to be involved in assigning emotional significance to environmental information and triggering adapted physiological, behavioral and affective responses. A large body of literature in animals and human implicates the amygdala in fear. Pain having a strong affective and emotional dimension, the amygdala, especially its central nucleus (CeA), has also emerged in the last twenty years as key element of the pain matrix. The CeA receives multiple nociceptive information from the brainstem, as well as highly processed polymodal information from the thalamus and the cerebral cortex. It also possesses the connections that allow influencing most of the descending pain control systems as well as higher centers involved in emotional, affective and cognitive functions. Preclinical studies indicate that the integration of nociceptive inputs in the CeA only marginally contributes to sensory-discriminative components of pain, but rather contributes to associated behavior and affective responses. The CeA doesn’t have a major influence on responses to acute nociception in basal condition, but it induces hypoalgesia during aversive situation, such as stress or fear. On the contrary, during persistent pain states (inflammatory, visceral, neuropathic), a long-lasting functional plasticity of CeA activity contributes to an enhancement of the pain experience, including hyperalgesia, aversive behavioral reactions and affective anxiety-like states.

Keywords:
Amygdala; Hypoalgesia; Hyperalgesia; Affective/emotional component; Persistent pain