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  • Thalamic atrophy associated with painful osteoarthritis of the hip is reversible after arthroplasty: a longitudinal voxel-based morphometric study.

    24 October 2018

    OBJECTIVE: Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) is a method of assessing brain gray matter volume that has previously been applied to various chronic pain conditions. From this previous work, it appears that chronic pain is associated with altered brain morphology. The present study was undertaken to assess these potential alterations in patients with painful hip osteoarthritis (OA). METHODS: We studied 16 patients with unilateral right-sided hip pain, before and 9 months after hip arthroplasty. This enabled comparison of gray matter volume in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain versus healthy controls, as well as identification of any changes in volume following alleviation of pain (after surgery). Assessment involved self-completion questionnaires to assess pain, function, and psychosocial variables, and magnetic resonance imaging scanning of the brain for VBM analysis. RESULTS: Significant differences in brain gray matter volume between healthy controls and patients with painful hip arthritis were seen. Specifically, areas of the thalamus in patients with chronic OA pain exhibited decreased gray matter volume. Furthermore, when these preoperative changes were compared with the brain morphology of the patients 9 months after surgery, the areas of reduced thalamic gray matter volume were found to have "reversed" to levels seen in healthy controls. CONCLUSION: Our findings confirm that gray matter volume decreases within the left thalamus in the presence of chronic pain and disability in patients with hip OA. The results also show that these thalamic volume changes reverse after hip arthroplasty and are associated with decreased pain and increased function. These findings have potential implications with regard to optimizing the timing of orthopedic interventions such as arthroplasty.

  • Neuroimaging as a tool for pain diagnosis and analgesic development.

    24 October 2018

    Neuroimaging makes it possible to study pain processing beyond the peripheral nervous system, at the supraspinal level, in a safe, noninvasive way, without interfering with neurophysiological processes. In recent years, studies using brain imaging methods have contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the development and maintenance of chronic pain. Moreover, neuroimaging shows promising results for analgesic drug development and in characterizing different types of pain, bringing us closer to development of mechanism-based diagnoses and treatments for the chronic pain patient.

  • Pharmacological FMRI in the development of new analgesic compounds.

    24 October 2018

    Chronic pain is a major problem for the individual and for society. Despite a range of drugs being available to treat chronic pain, only inadequate pain relief can be achieved for many patients. There is therefore a need for the development of new analgesic compounds. The assessment of pain depends to date entirely on the subjective report of the patient, in contrast to many other clinical conditions where biomarkers that help determine the severity and stage of the disease enable the physician to monitor the course of the disease and treatment effects longitudinally. In this article, we illustrate that magnetic resonance-based imaging techniques have the potential to provide sensitive and specific biomarkers of the pain experience, as well as clarifying disease mechanisms. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) is particularly suited to investigating the effects of pharmacological agents on pain processing within the human central nervous system. Combination of FMRI and drug administration is termed pharmacological FMRI (phFMRI). In addition to outlining several methodological considerations that have to be taken into account when performing phFMRI, we discuss phFMRI studies that have already used this technique to study the effects of analgesic compounds. These studies provide promising data for the use of phFMRI as sensitive tool in assessing a potential drug effect. Such pharmacodynamic readouts obtained early in the process of drug development would not only save the pharmaceutical industry substantial amounts of money, but would also avoid the unnecessary exposure of patients to molecules with limited or no therapeutic value. We are therefore optimistic that phFMRI will be used as a tool with high sensitivity and specificity for evaluating analgesic agents in early drug development and clinical studies.

  • The influence of negative emotions on pain: behavioral effects and neural mechanisms.

    24 October 2018

    The idea that pain can lead to feelings of frustration, worry, anxiety and depression seems obvious, particularly if it is of a chronic nature. However, there is also evidence for the reverse causal relationship in which negative mood and emotion can lead to pain or exacerbate it. Here, we review findings from studies on the modulation of pain by experimentally induced mood changes and clinical mood disorders. We discuss possible neural mechanisms underlying this modulatory influence focusing on the periaqueductal grey (PAG), amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and anterior insula as key players in both, pain and affective processing.

  • Placebo conditioning and placebo analgesia modulate a common brain network during pain anticipation and perception.

    24 October 2018

    The neural mechanisms whereby placebo conditioning leads to placebo analgesia remain unclear. In this study we aimed to identify the brain structures activated during placebo conditioning and subsequent placebo analgesia. We induced placebo analgesia by associating a sham treatment with pain reduction and used fMRI to measure brain activity associated with three stages of the placebo response: before, during and after the sham treatment, while participants anticipated and experienced brief laser pain. In the control session participants were explicitly told that the treatment was inactive. The sham treatment group reported a significant reduction in pain rating (p=0.012). Anticipatory brain activity was modulated during placebo conditioning in a fronto-cingulate network involving the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), medial frontal cortex and the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC). Identical areas were modulated during anticipation in the placebo analgesia phase with the addition of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). However, during altered pain experience only aMCC, post-central gyrus and posterior cingulate demonstrated altered activity. The common frontal cortical areas modulated during anticipation in both the placebo conditioning and placebo analgesia phases have previously been implicated in placebo analgesia. Our results suggest that the main effect of placebo arises from the reduction of anticipation of pain during placebo conditioning that is subsequently maintained during placebo analgesia.