Everyone’s brain has a ‘pain fingerprint’ that varies from person to person, says a new study. The concept of a “pain fingerprint” refers to the unique pattern of brain activity that occurs when individuals experience pain.
The recent research conducted at the University of Essex and the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich suggests that the gamma oscillations, fast-oscillating brain waves associated with brief pain and touch, vary significantly between individuals. These gamma oscillations were previously thought to represent pain perception in the brain, but previous studies mainly focused on group data and neglected individual differences.
In this study, the researchers examined data from 70 participants and found major differences in the timing, frequency, and location of gamma oscillations. Surprisingly, some individuals showed no gamma waves at all, while others exhibited a large response. The study also found that the individual patterns of gamma waves were remarkably stable and replicable when participants were stimulated with pain using a laser.
The Department of Psychology’s Dr Elia Valentini said: “Not only, for the first time, can we pinpoint the extreme variability in the gamma response across individuals, but we also show that the individual response pattern is stable across time.”
“This pattern of group variability and individual stability may apply to other brain responses, and characterising it may allow us to identify individual pain fingerprints in the activity of the brain.”
The term “pain fingerprint” is used metaphorically to illustrate the uniqueness and variability of these gamma oscillations among individuals. Just as each person’s fingerprint is distinct, the patterns of brain activity associated with pain are also unique to each individual. It is important to note that the exact reasons for these individual differences in pain perception and gamma oscillations are not yet understood and require further investigation.
This research has implications for understanding pain perception and may have future applications in personalised pain management and treatment. By identifying and characterizing these individual patterns of brain activity, researchers and clinicians may be able to develop more targeted and tailored approaches to pain management, potentially leading to more effective treatments and interventions for individuals experiencing pain.