Background: Functional connectivity (FC) perturbations have been reported in multiple chronic pain phenotypes, but the nature of reported changes varies between cohorts and may relate to the consequences of living with chronic-pain related comorbidities, such as anxiety and depression. Healthy volunteer studies provide opportunities to study the effects of tonic noxious stimulation independently of these sequelae. Connectivity changes in task negative and positive networks, for example, the default mode and salience networks (DMN/SN), respectively, have been described, but how these and other connectivity networks, for example, those governing descending pain control are affected by the presence of tonic, noxious stimulation in healthy, pain-free individuals, remains unknown. Method: In 20 healthy volunteers, we assessed FC prior to, during, and following tonic cold painful stimulation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), rostral anterior insula (rAI), subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and periaqueductal grey (PAG). We also recorded subjectively reported pain using a computerised visual analogue scale. Results: We saw DMN FC changes during painful stimulation and that inter-network connectivity between the rAI with the vmPFC increased during pain, whereas PAG-precuneus FC decreased. Pain-induced FC alterations persisted following noxious stimulation. FC changes related to the magnitude of individuals' subjectively reported pain. Conclusions: We demonstrate FC changes during and following tonic cold-pain in healthy participants. Similarities between our findings and reports of patients with chronic pain suggest that some FC changes observed in these patients may relate to the presence of an ongoing afferent nociceptive drive. Significance: How pain-related resting state networks are affected by tonic cold-pain remains unknown. We investigated functional connectivity alterations during and following tonic cold pain in healthy volunteers. Cold pain perturbed the functional connectivity of the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, and the periacquaductal grey area. These connectivity changes were associated with the magnitude of individuals’ reported pain. We suggest that some connectivity changes described in chronic pain patients may be due to an ongoing afferent peripheral drive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1850-1861
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean journal of pain (London, England)
Issue number9
Early online date10 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


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