Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we observed that noxious thermal stimuli (46°C) produce significant signal change in putative reward circuitry as well as in classic pain circuitry. Increases in signal were observed in the sublenticular extended amygdala of the basal forebrain (SLEA) and the ventral tegmentum/periaqueductal gray (VT/PAG), while foci of increased signal and decreased signal were observed in the ventral striatum and nucleus accumbens (NAc). Early and late phases were observed for signals in most brain regions, with early activation in reward related regions such as the SLEA, VT/PAG, and ventral striatum. In contrast, structures associated with somatosensory perception, including SI somatosensory cortex, thalamus, and insula, showed delayed activation. These data support the notion that there may be a shared neural system for evaluation of aversive and rewarding stimuli.
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