New research led by the University of Essex has found that everyone’s brain has a unique ‘pain fingerprint’ when it comes to experiencing brief pain or touch. The study, conducted in collaboration with the neuroscience of pain group at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, focused on fast-oscillating brain waves called gamma oscillations. These waves were previously thought to represent pain perception in the brain, but past research has largely ignored individual differences and categorized them as ‘noise’ in scans.
The study, led by Dr Elia Valentini from the Department of Psychology, found that gamma oscillations can vary widely in timing, frequency, and location among individuals. In some cases, participants showed no gamma waves at all. Additionally, the study found that the individual response pattern remains stable over time. These findings indicate that there is extreme variability in the gamma response across individuals and suggest the existence of individual “pain fingerprints” in the brain’s activity.
The study, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, examined data from a total of 70 participants. The experiments were split into two studies and involved using a laser to generate pain. The researchers discovered that the subjects’ gamma waves were remarkably stable and created similar individual patterns when stimulated. Interestingly, some participants reported feeling pain without exhibiting a gamma response, while others showed a large response.
The reasons for this variation in gamma oscillations are still unknown, but the researchers hope that this study will pave the way for future research in this area. Dr Valentini emphasizes the need to reconsider past findings on the relationship between pain and gamma oscillations, as previous studies did not account for the variability among participants. He believes that quantifying gamma oscillations as done previously has led to misleading conclusions about their role in pain perception. The study’s findings highlight the importance of characterizing individual differences in brain responses and suggest that a similar pattern of group variability and individual stability may exist for other brain responses.
Dr Valentini also hopes that this study will have implications beyond just pain perception. He suggests that the way gamma oscillations are measured in other sensory domains should be reconsidered based on the findings of this study. By understanding the individual variation in gamma oscillations, researchers may be able to develop a better understanding of the role these brain waves play in various sensory experiences.
In conclusion, the study conducted by the University of Essex and the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich has revealed the existence of individual “pain fingerprints” in the brain’s response to brief pain and touch. The study found major differences in timing, frequency, and location of gamma oscillations among participants and highlighted the need to consider individual differences in brain responses. The findings have implications not only for understanding pain perception but also for measuring gamma oscillations in other sensory domains. The researchers hope that this study will lead to further research in this field and provide a better understanding of the role of gamma oscillations in the brain.