It is one or the other: No overlap between healthy individuals perceiving thermal grill illusion or paradoxical heat sensation

Ellen Lund Schaldemose*, Line Raaschou-Nielsen, Rebecca Astrid Böhme, Nanna Brix Finnerup, Francesca Fardo

*Corresponding author for this work

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Paradoxical heat sensation (PHS) and the thermal grill illusion (TGI) are both related to the perception of warmth or heat from innocuous cold stimuli. Despite being described as similar perceptual phenomena, recent findings suggested that PHS is common in neuropathy and related to sensory loss, while TGI is more frequently observed in healthy individuals. To clarify the relationship between these two phenomena, we conducted a study in a cohort of healthy individuals to investigate the association between PHS and TGI. We examined the somatosensory profiles of 60 healthy participants (34 females, median age 25 years) using the quantitative sensory testing (QST) protocol from the German Research Network on Neuropathic Pain. The number of PHS was measured using a modified thermal sensory limen (TSL) procedure where the skin was transiently pre-warmed, or pre-cooled before the PHS measure. This procedure also included a control condition with a pre-temperature of 32 °C. The number of TGI responses was quantified during simultaneous application of warm and cold innocuous stimuli. All participants had normal thermal and mechanical thresholds compared to the reference values from the QST protocol. Only two participants experienced PHS during the QST procedure. In the modified TSL procedure, we found no statistically significant differences in the number of participants reporting PHS in the control condition (N = 6) vs. pre-warming (N = 3; min = 35.7 °C, max = 43.5 °C) and pre-cooling (N = 4, min = 15.0 °C, max = 28.8 °C) conditions. Fourteen participants experienced TGI, and only one participant reported both TGI and PHS. Individuals with TGI had normal or even increased thermal sensation compared to individuals without TGI. Our findings demonstrate a clear distinction between individuals experiencing PHS or TGI, as there was no overlap observed when using identical warm and cold temperatures that were alternated either temporally or spatially. While PHS was previously related to sensory loss, our study revealed that TGI is associated with normal thermal sensitivity. This suggests that an efficient thermal sensory function is essential in generating the illusory sensation of pain of the TGI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137169
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Pain
  • Paradoxical heat sensation
  • Thermal grill illusion
  • Thermal sensation


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