Date Published:2013 Dec
BACKGROUND: Chronic pain remains a significant challenge for modern health care as its pathologic mechanisms are largely unknown and preclinical animal models suffer from limitations in assessing this complex subjective experience. However, human brain neuroimaging techniques enable the assessment of functional and neurochemical alterations in patients experiencing chronic pain and how these factors may dynamically change with pharmacologic treatment. METHODS: To identify the clinical action of pregabalin, a proven analgesic, the authors performed three complementary brain neuroimaging procedures: (proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging) in 17 chronic pain patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. RESULTS: The authors found that pregabalin but not placebo reduces combined glutamate + glutamine levels within the posterior insula (pregabalin P = 0.016; placebo P = 0.71). Interestingly, reductions in clinical pain were associated with reductions in brain connectivity of this structure to brain regions within the default mode network during pregabalin (r = 0.82; P = 0.001) but not placebo (r = -0.13; P = 0.63). Response of default mode network regions to experimental pain was also reduced with pregabalin (P = 0.018) but not placebo (P = 0.182). Perhaps most importantly, baseline values for all three neuroimaging markers predicted subsequent analgesic response to pregabalin but not placebo. CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study suggest that pregabalin works in part by reducing insular glutamatergic activity, leading to a reduction of the increased functional connectivity seen between brain regions in chronic pain states. The study also supports a role for human brain imaging in the development, assessment, and personalized use of central-acting analgesics.