Many fMRI studies have shown activity in the cerebellum after peripheral nociceptive stimulation. We investigated whether the areas in the cerebellum that were activated after nociceptive thumb stimulation were separate from those after nociceptive toe stimulation. In an additional experiment, we investigated the same for the anticipation of a nociceptive stimulation on the thumb or toe. For his purpose, we used fMRI after an electrical stimulation of the thumb and toe in 19 adult healthy volunteers. Following nociceptive stimulation, different areas were activated by stimulation on the thumb (lobule VI ipsilaterally and Crus II mainly contralaterally) and toe (lobules VIII-IX and IV-V bilaterally and lobule VI contralaterally), i.e., were somatotopically organized. Cerebellar areas innervated non-somatotopically by both toe and thumb stimulation were the posterior vermis and Crus I, bilaterally. In the anticipation experiment, similar results were found. However, here, the somatotopically activated areas were relatively small for thumb and negligible for toe stimulation, while the largest area was innervated non-somatotopically and consisted mainly of Crus I and lobule VI bilaterally. These findings indicate that nociceptive stimulation and anticipation of nociceptive stimulation are at least partly processed by the same areas in the cerebellum. This was confirmed by an additional conjunction analysis. Based on our findings, we hypothesize that input that is organized in a somatotopical manner reflects direct input from the spinal cord, while non-somatotopically activated parts of the cerebellum receive their information indirectly through cortical and subcortical connections, possibly involved in processing contextual emotional states, like the expectation of pain.

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The Cerebellum
Department of Neuroscience

Michelle Welman, F.H.S. (F. H.S.), Smit, A. E., Jongen, J., Tibboel, D., van der Geest, J., & Holstege, J. C. (2018). Pain Experience is Somatotopically Organized and Overlaps with Pain Anticipation in the Human Cerebellum. The Cerebellum, 1–14. doi:10.1007/s12311-018-0930-9