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The periaqueductal grey area (PAG) in the midbrain is an important area for both cardiovascular control and modulation of pain. However, the precise relationship between pain and blood pressure is unknown. We prospectively studied 16 patients undergoing deep brain stimulation of the rostral PAG for chronic pain. Pre-operatively, post-operatively, and at 1 year, pain scores were assessed using both visual analogue scores and the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Patients were tested post-operatively to determine whether electrical stimulation of the PAG would modulate blood pressure. We found that the degree of analgesia induced by deep brain stimulation of the rostral PAG in man is related to the magnitude of reduction in arterial blood pressure. We found that this relationship is linear and is related to reduced activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Thus stimulation of the PAG may partly control pain by reducing sympathetic activity as predicted by William James over a century ago.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





349 - 359


Adult, Aged, Analgesia, Blood Pressure, Chronic Disease, Deep Brain Stimulation, Electrodes, Female, Humans, Linear Models, Male, Middle Aged, Pain, Pain Management, Pain Measurement, Periaqueductal Gray, Prospective Studies, Sympathetic Nervous System