Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 1468–1473 | Cite as

Predicting trait-like individual differences in fear of pain in the healthy state using gray matter volume

  • Xiaowan Wang
  • Chris Baeken
  • Mengxia Fang
  • Jiang Qiu
  • Hong Chen
  • Guo-Rong WuEmail author
Original Research


Fear of pain (FOP) can be considered as a product of evolution from overstated negative interpretations of pain and sometimes may cause more damage than the actual pain itself. While trait-like measures of FOP have emerged as predictors for the inception and development of chronic pain, its neural underpinnings are not well understood. To investigate the relationship between gray matter volumes (GMV) and trait-like individual differences in FOP, we analyzed structural magnetic resonance imaging data in a sample of healthy young adults. Regression analysis results showed that individuals with higher FOP scores displayed higher GMV in brain regions important for the regulation of pain and fear. These brain areas include the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the anterior part of the dorsal ACC, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and the adjacent pre-supplementary motor area. Furthermore, cross-validation analysis confirmed that the identified regional GMV offered a reliable neural signature of trait-like FOP. Our findings shed more light on the neuroanatomical architecture of FOP in currently pain-free people, which may be helpful to guide early interventions to prevent FOP from becoming chronic.


Fear of pain Gray matter volume Anterior cingulate cortex Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex Cross-validation 



G-R.W was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 61876156, 61403312), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Grant No. SWU116074). This work was also supported by a grant of het Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Rode Neuzen G0F4617N.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

This study was approved by the Institutional Human Participants Review Board of Southwest University Imaging Center for Brain Research and all participants gave written informed consent prior to their participation.

Supplementary material

11682_2018_9960_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (163 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 163 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Faculty of PsychologySouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Medical PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel (UZBrussel)BrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Ghent Experimental Psychiatry (GHEP) LabGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  5. 5.Department of Art EducationChongqing Vocational College of Applied TechnologyChongqingChina

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