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The mesolimbic dopamine pathway is a common neural pathway upon which rewards converge AKA the pleasure pathway.

So I am trying to find a comparable pathway in the brain for pain -- is there such a thing? Ideally, one where a probe could be inserted and stimulated to induce intractable pain in the victim. Is there anything reminiscent of the mesolimbic pathway but for pain, perhaps with some sort of somatosensory mapping?

What you never thought about using Deep Brain Stimulation to torture someone before?

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question - but ethically questionable - can you provide motivations and a background for this question? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Sep 21 '18 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ torture device i've been fantasising about. you keep someone alive for as long as possible, then stimulate pain on varying reinforcement schedules. they come to associate certain cues with being pain free. they feel safe. then you break the contingency. repeat. $\endgroup$ – faustus Sep 21 '18 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ I find this premise to be quite questionable... $\endgroup$ – AliceD Sep 21 '18 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ LOL. Is that really your motivation or are you just pulling Alice's leg on this? $\endgroup$ – Fizz Sep 21 '18 at 15:25
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Based on the most recent (all post-2009) research, it seems to be the same general pathway, just with different gradients in the same areas of the brain. From Taylor et al. (2016):

Recent studies suggest that dopamine neurons in the VTA [ventral tegmental area] and SN [substantia nigra] form a heterogeneous population tuned to either (or both) aversive or rewarding stimuli.

The heterogeneity of dopamine neurons in response to aversive and rewarding stimuli suggests that they serve unique functional roles. Cells activated by reward and inhibited by punishment are well suited to code motivational valence, whereas neurons activated by both rewarding and punishing stimuli are likely to code motivational salience [stimulus awareness]. Neurons coding motivational valence [whether the stimulus is positive or negative in value] would provide a signal for reward seeking, evaluation, and value learning, in line with current theories on the role of dopamine in reward processing. In contrast, neurons coding motivational salience would provide a signal for detection and prediction of highly important events independent of valence, pursuant to dopamine's role in salience processing. These distinct aspects of dopamine neurotransmission might be neuroanatomically separate: dopaminergic neurons coding motivational valence have been found more commonly in the ventromedial SN and lateral VTA with projections to nucleus accumbens [NAc] shell, whereas neurons coding motivational salience are more often reported in the dorsolateral SN with projections to the nucleus accumbens core.

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The primary evidence for this updated view seems mostly based (in order of the number of citations) on 3 papers:


The part of your question that probably confused Alice and also confuses me a little is that you also ask (in your final paragraph) about somatosensory mapping. The latter doesn't generally involve tracing any pathways beyond the sensory areas of the brain, e.g. for macaques

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Also such maps are not totally fixed as there is some use-dependent plasticity.

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  • $\begingroup$ The questions seems on pain, not on the limbic system? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Sep 21 '18 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD: He asked about whether "Is there a region of the brain that mediates pain a la mesolimbic pathway?" By meadiates I assume he knows what that entails when it comes to the better studied rewarding "pleasure" stimuli. Actually a subsequent comment of his (on cues) confirms that he understands this properly, so my answer isn't off-base. $\endgroup$ – Fizz Sep 21 '18 at 15:23

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