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  • Pharmacological FMRI: measuring opioid effects on the BOLD response to hypercapnia.

    24 October 2018

    Opioid binding to the cerebral blood vessels may affect vascular responsiveness and hence confound interpretation of blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) responses, which are usually interpreted as neuronal in origin. Opioid binding varies in different brain regions. It is unclear whether opioids alter neurovascular coupling, or whether their effects are purely neuronal. This study used BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to investigate the effect of a mu-opioid agonist remifentanil, on cerebrovascular CO(2) reactivity (being one component of neurovascular coupling). Hypercapnic challenges were delivered to human volunteers, while controlling potential opioid-induced respiratory depression. The BOLD signal increase to hypercapnia was compared before and during remifentanil administration. Remifentanil was shown not to have a generalised effect on CO(2) responsiveness in the cerebral vasculature. However, it caused a significant reduction in the positive BOLD response to hypercapnia in the bilateral primary sensorimotor cortices, bilateral extrastriate visual areas, left insula, left caudate nucleus, and left inferior temporal gyrus. We conclude that remifentanil does not modulate cerebrovascular CO(2) reactivity, as we saw no difference in BOLD response to hypercapnia in areas with high opioid receptor densities. We did however see a focal reduction in areas related to motor control and putative task activation, which we conclude to be related to changes in neuronal activity related to the sedative effects of remifentanil. Our method of controlling CO(2) levels effectively mitigated the potential confound of respiratory depression and allowed comparison over a similar range of CO(2) levels. We suggest that similar methodology should be used when investigating other potentially vasoactive compounds with FMRI.

  • An investigation to dissociate the analgesic and anesthetic properties of ketamine using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

    24 October 2018

    BACKGROUND: Anatomic sites within the brain, which activate in response to noxious stimuli, can be identified with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging. The aim of this study was to determine whether the analgesic effects of ketamine could be imaged. METHODS: Ketamine was administered to eight healthy volunteers with use of a target-controlled infusion to three predicted plasma concentrations: 0 (saline), 50 (subanalgesic), and 200 ng/ml (analgesic, subanesthetic). Volunteers received noxious thermal stimuli and auditory stimuli and performed a motor task within a 3-T human brain imaging magnet. Activation of brain regions in response to noxious and auditory stimuli and during the motor task was compared with behavioral measures. RESULTS: The analgesic subanesthetic dose of ketamine significantly reduced the pain scores, and this matched a decrease in activity within brain regions that activate in response to noxious stimuli, in particular, the insular cortex and thalamus. A different pattern of activation was observed in response to an auditory task. In comparison, smaller behavioral and imaging changes were found for the motor paradigm. The lower dose of ketamine gave similar but smaller nonsignificant effects. CONCLUSION: The analgesic effect can be measured within a more global effect of ketamine as shown by auditory and motor tasks, and the analgesia produced by ketamine occurs with a smaller degree of cortical processing in pain-related regions.

  • Imaging how attention modulates pain in humans using functional MRI.

    24 October 2018

    Current clinical and experimental literature strongly supports the phenomenon of reduced pain perception whilst attention is distracted away from noxious stimuli. This study used functional MRI to elucidate the underlying neural systems and mechanisms involved. An analogue of the Stroop task, the counting Stroop, was used as a cognitive distraction task whilst subjects received intermittent painful thermal stimuli. Pain intensity scores were significantly reduced when subjects took part in the more cognitively demanding interference task of the counting Stroop than in the less demanding neutral task. When subjects were distracted during painful stimulation, brain areas associated with the affective division of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and orbitofrontal regions showed increased activation. In contrast, many areas of the pain matrix (i.e. thalamus, insula, cognitive division of the ACC) displayed reduced activation, supporting the behavioural results of reduced pain perception.

  • Amygdala activity contributes to the dissociative effect of cannabis on pain perception.

    24 October 2018

    Cannabis is reported to be remarkably effective for the relief of otherwise intractable pain. However, the bases for pain relief afforded by this psychotropic agent are debatable. Nonetheless, the frontal-limbic distribution of cannabinoid receptors in the brain suggests that cannabis may target preferentially the affective qualities of pain. This central mechanism of action may be relevant to cannabinoid analgesia in humans, but has yet to be demonstrated. Here, we employed functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a naturally occurring cannabinoid, on brain activity related to cutaneous ongoing pain and hyperalgesia that were temporarily induced by capsaicin in healthy volunteers. On average, THC reduced the reported unpleasantness, but not the intensity of ongoing pain and hyperalgesia: the specific analgesic effect on hyperalgesia was substantiated by diminished activity in the anterior mid cingulate cortex. In individuals, the drug-induced reduction in the unpleasantness of hyperalgesia was positively correlated with right amygdala activity. THC also reduced functional connectivity between the amygdala and primary sensorimotor areas during the ongoing-pain state. Critically, the reduction in sensory-limbic functional connectivity was positively correlated with the difference in drug effects on the unpleasantness and the intensity of ongoing pain. Peripheral mechanisms alone cannot account for the dissociative effects of THC on the pain that was observed. Instead, the data reveal that amygdala activity contributes to interindividual response to cannabinoid analgesia, and suggest that dissociative effects of THC in the brain are relevant to pain relief in humans.

  • Blood oxygenation level dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging: current and potential uses in obstetrics and gynaecology.

    24 October 2018

    Blood-oxygenation-level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging is a noninvasive technique that has become increasingly popular in the neurosciences. It measures the proportion of oxygenated haemoglobin in specific areas of the brain, mirroring blood flow and therefore function. Here we review how the findings from functional studies impact on areas of gynaecological practice as diverse as chronic pain, continence, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Finally we review some of the more novel applications of the technique, such as imaging of pelvic floor function and the effects of hypoxia on the fetus.

  • Itch and motivation to scratch: an investigation of the central and peripheral correlates of allergen- and histamine-induced itch in humans.

    24 October 2018

    Intense itch and urge to scratch are the major symptoms of many chronic skin ailments, which are increasingly common. Vicious itch-scratch cycles are readily established and may diminish quality of life for those afflicted. We investigated peripheral and central processing of two types of itch sensation elicited by skin-prick tests of histamine and allergen solutions. Itch-related skin blood flow changes were measured by laser Doppler in 14 subjects responsive to type I allergens and 14 nonatopic subjects. In addition, this study examined central processing of both types of itch using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Itch perception and blood flow changes were significantly greater when itch was induced by allergens compared with histamine. Both types of itch correlated significantly with activity in the genual anterior cingulate, striatum, and thalamus. Moreover, itch elicited by allergens activated orbitofrontal, supplementary motor, and posterior parietal areas. Histamine-induced itch also significantly correlated with activation in the insula bilaterally. The identification of limbic and ventral prefrontal activation in two types of itch processing likely reflects the subjects' desire to relieve the itch sensation by scratching, and these regions have been repeatedly associated with motivation processing. A dysfunction of the striato-thalamo-orbitofrontal circuit is believed to underlie the failure to regulate motivational drive in disorders associated with strong urges, e.g., addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder. The patterns of itch-induced activation reported here may help explain why chronic itch sufferers frequently self-harm through uncontrollable itch-scratch cycles.

  • Neuroimaging as a tool to investigate how cognitive factors influence analgesic drug outcomes

    24 October 2018

    The observation that cognitive factors such as beliefs and expectations not only modulate the perception of pain, but also the therapeutic benefit and adverse effects of any pharmacological treatment is not new. However, the contribution of cognitive factors to pharmacotherapy is still poorly understood and far from being systematically exploited to maximize treatment outcome. Recent insights into placebo and nocebo phenomena and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms have, however, rekindled the interest in interactions between pharmacological effects and cognitive factors. In this review, we argue that modern non-invasive neuroimaging techniques exploring structure and function of the brain as well as neurochemical processes can aid in understanding these potential interactions at a more fundamental level. Taking pain as an example, we portrait recent advances in this field and discuss basic science and clinical implications. © 2012.

  • Neuroimaging as a tool to investigate how cognitive factors influence analgesic drug outcomes.

    24 October 2018

    The observation that cognitive factors such as beliefs and expectations not only modulate the perception of pain, but also the therapeutic benefit and adverse effects of any pharmacological treatment is not new. However, the contribution of cognitive factors to pharmacotherapy is still poorly understood and far from being systematically exploited to maximize treatment outcome. Recent insights into placebo and nocebo phenomena and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms have, however, rekindled the interest in interactions between pharmacological effects and cognitive factors. In this review, we argue that modern non-invasive neuroimaging techniques exploring structure and function of the brain as well as neurochemical processes can aid in understanding these potential interactions at a more fundamental level. Taking pain as an example, we portrait recent advances in this field and discuss basic science and clinical implications.

  • Opioids depress cortical centers responsible for the volitional control of respiration.

    24 October 2018

    Respiratory depression limits provision of safe opioid analgesia and is the main cause of death in drug addicts. Although opioids are known to inhibit brainstem respiratory activity, their effects on cortical areas that mediate respiration are less well understood. Here, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to examine how brainstem and cortical activity related to a short breath hold is modulated by the opioid remifentanil. We hypothesized that remifentanil would differentially depress brain areas that mediate sensory-affective components of respiration over those that mediate volitional motor control. Quantitative measures of cerebral blood flow were used to control for hypercapnia-induced changes in blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal. Awareness of respiration, reflected by an urge-to-breathe score, was profoundly reduced with remifentanil. Urge to breathe was associated with activity in the bilateral insula, frontal operculum, and secondary somatosensory cortex. Localized remifentanil-induced decreases in breath hold-related activity were observed in the left anterior insula and operculum. We also observed remifentanil-induced decreases in the BOLD response to breath holding in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, the cerebellum, and periaqueductal gray, brain areas that mediate task performance. Activity in areas mediating motor control (putamen, motor cortex) and sensory-motor integration (supramarginal gyrus) were unaffected by remifentanil. Breath hold-related activity was observed in the medulla. These findings highlight the importance of higher cortical centers in providing contextual awareness of respiration that leads to appropriate modulation of respiratory control. Opioids have profound effects on the cortical centers that control breathing, which potentiates their actions in the brainstem.

  • Baseline reward circuitry activity and trait reward responsiveness predict expression of opioid analgesia in healthy subjects.

    24 October 2018

    Variability in opioid analgesia has been attributed to many factors. For example, genetic variability of the μ-opioid receptor (MOR)-encoding gene introduces variability in MOR function and endogenous opioid neurotransmission. Emerging evidence suggests that personality trait related to the experience of reward is linked to endogenous opioid neurotransmission. We hypothesized that opioid-induced behavioral analgesia would be predicted by the trait reward responsiveness (RWR) and the response of the brain reward circuitry to noxious stimuli at baseline before opioid administration. In healthy volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging and the μ-opioid agonist remifentanil, we found that the magnitude of behavioral opioid analgesia is positively correlated with the trait RWR and predicted by the neuronal response to painful noxious stimuli before infusion in key structures of the reward circuitry, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and the ventral tegmental area. These findings highlight the role of the brain reward circuitry in the expression of behavioral opioid analgesia. We also show a positive correlation between behavioral opioid analgesia and opioid-induced suppression of neuronal responses to noxious stimuli in key structures of the descending pain modulatory system (amygdala, periaqueductal gray, and rostral-ventromedial medulla), as well as the hippocampus. Further, these activity changes were predicted by the preinfusion period neuronal response to noxious stimuli within the ventral tegmentum. These results support the notion of future imaging-based subject-stratification paradigms that can guide therapeutic decisions.