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Common brain activations for painful and non-painful aversive stimuli

Dave J Hayes* and Georg Northoff

Author affiliations

Mind, Brain Imaging and Neuroethics Research Unit, Institute of Mental Health Research, University of Ottawa, 1145 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, K1Z 7K4, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:60  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-60

Published: 7 June 2012



Identification of potentially harmful stimuli is necessary for the well-being and self-preservation of all organisms. However, the neural substrates involved in the processing of aversive stimuli are not well understood. For instance, painful and non-painful aversive stimuli are largely thought to activate different neural networks. However, it is presently unclear whether there is a common aversion-related network of brain regions responsible for the basic processing of aversive stimuli. To help clarify this issue, this report used a cross-species translational approach in humans (i.e. meta-analysis) and rodents (i.e. systematic review of functional neuroanatomy).


Animal and human data combined to show a core aversion-related network, consisting of similar cortical (i.e. MCC, PCC, AI, DMPFC, RTG, SMA, VLOFC; see results section or abbreviation section for full names) and subcortical (i.e. Amyg, BNST, DS, Hab, Hipp/Parahipp, Hyp, NAc, NTS, PAG, PBN, raphe, septal nuclei, Thal, LC, midbrain) regions. In addition, a number of regions appeared to be more involved in pain-related (e.g. sensory cortex) or non-pain-related (e.g. amygdala) aversive processing.


This investigation suggests that aversive processing, at the most basic level, relies on similar neural substrates, and that differential responses may be due, in part, to the recruitment of additional structures as well as the spatio-temporal dynamic activity of the network. This network perspective may provide a clearer understanding of why components of this circuit appear dysfunctional in some psychiatric and pain-related disorders.

Meta-analysis; Translational; Aversion; Pain; Neuroimaging; Animal models