Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Whether the cortical processing of nociceptive input relies on the activity of nociceptive-specific neurons or whether it relies on the activity of neurons also involved in processing nonnociceptive sensory input remains a matter of debate. Here, we combined EEG “frequency tagging” of steady-state evoked potentials (SS-EPs) with an intermodal selective attention paradigm to test whether the cortical processing of nociceptive input relies on nociceptive-specific neuronal populations that can be selectively modulated by top–down attention. Trains of nociceptive and vibrotactile stimuli (Experiment 1) and trains of nociceptive and visual stimuli (Experiment 2) were applied concomitantly to the same hand, thus eliciting nociceptive, vibrotactile, and visual SS-EPs. In each experiment, a target detection task was used to focus attention toward one of the two concurrent streams of sensory input. We found that selectively attending to nociceptive or vibrotactile somatosensory input indistinctly enhances the magnitude of nociceptive and vibrotactile SS-EPs, whereas selectively attending to nociceptive or visual input independently enhances the magnitude of the SS-EP elicited by the attended sensory input. This differential effect indicates that the processing of nociceptive input involves neuronal populations also involved in the processing of touch, but distinct from the neuronal populations involved in vision.