Researchers have identified the brain region responsible for pain's ability to seek attention.
The new study has found that this pain-related brain region is distinct from the one involved in cognitive processing interference due to a distracting memory task.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Ulrike Bingel at the the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.
As part of the study, the researchers conducted cognitive task involving distinguishing images, as well as a working memory task involving remembering images on volunteers.
The researchers asked the volunteers to perform the tasks as they experienced different levels of pain caused by the zapping of their hands by a harmless laser beam.
Researchers scanned the volunteers' brains during the tasks using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which uses harmless magnetic fields and radio waves to scan the brain to determine blood flow across regions, which reflects brain activity.
Researchers identified a brain region called the lateral occipital complex (LOC) as the cognitive-related area affected by both 'working memory load' and pain.
The researchers then sought to identify the brain region by which pain affects the functioning of the LOC.
The study theorized that the best candidate for this region was one called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) known to be involved in the brain's processing of pain and plays an important role in 'executive" functions such as attentional control.
The fMRI scans indicated that the region was indeed, the brain centre through which pain influences the LOC.
By contrast, they found that a working memory load affects the LOC through a different region, the inferior parietal cortex.
The findings of the study were published in the July issue of the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press.