Baroreceptor activation attenuates attentional effects on pain-evoked potentials

Marcus A. Gray, Ludovico Minati, Giulia Paoletti, Hugo D. Critchley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Focused attention typically enhances neural nociceptive responses, reflected electroencephalographically as increased amplitude of pain-evoked event-related potentials (ERPs). Additionally, pain-evoked ERPs are attenuated by hypertension and baroreceptor activity, through as yet unclear mechanisms. There is indirect evidence that these two effects may interact, suggesting that baroreceptor-related modulation of nociception is more than a low-level gating phenomenon. To address this hypothesis, we explored in a group of healthy participants the combined effects of cue-induced expectancy and baroreceptor activity on the amplitude of pain-evoked ERPs. Brief nociceptive skin stimuli were delivered during a simple visual task; half were preceded by a visual forewarning cue, and half were unpredictable. Nociceptive stimuli were timed to coincide either with systole (maximum activation of cardiac baroreceptors) or with diastole (minimum baroreceptor activation). We observed a strong interaction between expectancy and cardiac timing for the amplitude of the P2 ERP component; no effects were observed for the N2 component. Cued stimuli were associated with larger P2 amplitude, but this effect was abolished for stimuli presented during baroreceptor activation. No cardiac timing effect was observed for un-cued stimuli. Taken together, these findings suggest a close integration of cognitive-affective aspects of expectancy and baroreceptor influences on pain, and as such may cast further light on mechanisms underlying mental and physiological contributions to clinical pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-861
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Attention
  • Baroreceptor
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiac timing
  • Evoked potentials
  • Homeostasis
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Pharmacology


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