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Watch: Picturing Pain in the Brain

In a December 16, 2013 webinar for the Pain Research Forum, presenter Tor Wager, University of Colorado, Boulder, gave a talk titled “Towards fMRI-Based Biomarkers for Pain.”

Following the talk, a distinguished panel discussed important issues raised by Wager’s presentation. The panel included:

    • Vania Apkarian, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, US
    • Karen Davis, Toronto Western Research Institute, University Health Network; and the University of Toronto, Canada
    • Giandomenico Iannetti, University College London, UK
    • Robert Coghill, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, US (moderator)

Here is Wager’s abstract of his talk:

“Pain and emotional distress are created by the brain, but brain markers that can predict and differentiate them have not yet been developed. Finding neural “signatures” for the neurophysiological ingredients of pain would help to both characterize pain and understand its basis in the central nervous system, and could provide targets for both psychological and pharmacological interventions. I describe recent work by our laboratory to establish a provisional biomarker for acute pain based on fMRI activity, the neurologic pain signature (NPS). The NPS can predict an individual person’s pain experience with over 90 percent sensitivity and specificity across studies. It transfers across types of acute somatic pain (thermal, electrical, mechanical) and body parts. In addition, it does not respond to other affective events, including images related to emotional rejection, observed pain, aversive images, non-painful warmth, and pain anticipation. Tests of interventions have shown that the NPS responds to opiate treatment and some psychological interventions—including cognitive load, acceptance, and conditioned analgesia—but not others, including self-regulation and placebo in some studies. Its applicability to neuropathic pain is currently unknown. Overall, these findings provide a platform for analyzing the genesis of pain in the central nervous system. They also outline a program of research for developing and validating fMRI-based biomarkers for multiple kinds of affective experiences.”

View the webinar here, or visit the Pain Research Forum webinar page to see the comments and discussion.