BACKGROUND: Acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain, and acupuncture-induced sensation may be important for this analgesia. In addition, cognitive coping strategies can influence sensory perception. However, the role of coping strategy on acupuncture modulation of pain and sensory thresholds, and the association between acupuncture sensation and these modulatory effects, is currently unknown.
METHODS: Electroacupuncture (EA) was applied at acupoints ST36 and GB39 of 61 healthy adults. Different coping conditions were experimentally designed to form an active coping strategy group (AC group), who thought they could control EA stimulation intensity, and a passive coping strategy group (PC group), who did not think they had such control. Importantly, neither group was actually able to control EA stimulus intensity. Quantitative sensory testing was performed before and after EA, and consisted of vibration (VDT), mechanical (MDT), warm (WDT), and cold (CDT) detection thresholds, and pressure (PPT), mechanical (MPT), heat (HPT) and cold (CPT) pain thresholds. Autonomic measures (e.g. skin conductance response, SCR) were also acquired to quantify physiological response to EA under different coping conditions. Subjects also reported the intensity of any acupuncture-induced sensations.
RESULTS: Coping strategy was induced with successful blinding in 58% of AC subjects. Compared to PC, AC showed greater SCR to EA. Under AC, EA reduced PPT and CPT. In the AC group, improved pain and sensory thresholds were correlated with acupuncture sensation (VDTchange vs. MI: r=0.58, CDTchange vs. tingling: r=0.53, CPTchange vs. tingling; r=0.55, CPTchange vs. dull; r=0.55). However, in the PC group, improved sensory thresholds were negatively correlated with acupuncture sensation (CDTchange vs. intensity sensitization: r=-0.52, WDTchange vs. fullness: r=-0.57).
CONCLUSIONS: Our novel approach was able to successfully induce AC and PC strategies to EA stimulation. The interaction between psychological coping strategy and acupuncture sensation intensity can differentially modulate pain and sensory detection threshold response to EA. In a clinical context, our findings suggest that instructions given to the patient can significantly affect therapeutic outcomes and the relationship between acupuncture intensity and clinical response. Specifically, acupuncture analgesia can be enhanced by matching physical stimulation intensity with psychological coping strategy to acupuncture contexts.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: KCT0000905.
In a clinical setting, acupuncture treatment consists of multiple components including somatosensory stimulation, treatment context, and attention to needle-based procedures. In order to dissociate somatosensory versus contextual and attentional aspects of acupuncture, we devised a novel form of placebo acupuncture, a visual manipulation dubbed phantom acupuncture, which reproduces the acupuncture needling ritual without somatosensory tactile stimulation. Subjects (N = 20) received both real (REAL) and phantom (PHNT) acupuncture. Subjects were retrospectively classified into two groups based on PHNT credibility (PHNTc, who found phantom acupuncture credible; and PHNTnc, who did not). Autonomic and psychophysical responses were monitored. We found that PHNT can be delivered in a credible manner. Acupuncture needling, a complex, ritualistic somatosensory intervention, induces sympathetic activation (phasic skin conductance [SC] response), which may be specific to the somatosensory component of acupuncture. In contrast, contextual effects, such as needling credibility, are instead associated with a shift toward relative cardiovagal activation (decreased heart rate) during needling and sympathetic inhibition (decreased SC) and parasympathetic activation (decreased pupil size) following acupuncture needling. Visual stimulation characterizing the needling ritual is an important factor for phasic autonomic responses to acupuncture and may undelie the needling orienting response. Our study suggests that phantom acupuncture can be a viable sham control for acupuncture as it completely excludes the somatosensory component of real needling while maintaining the credibility of the acupuncture treatment context in many subjects.
AIMS/OBJECTIVES/BACKGROUND: Studies have associated chronic low back pain (cLBP) with grey matter thinning. But these studies have not controlled for important clinical variables (such as a comorbid affective disorder, pain medication, age, or pain phenotype), which may reduce or eliminate these associations.
METHODS: We conducted cortical thickness and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) analyses in 14 cLBP patients with a discogenic component to their pain, not taking opioids or benzodiazepines, and not depressed or anxious. They were age and gender matched to 14 pain-free controls (PFCs). An ROI-driven analysis (regions of interest) was conducted, using 18 clusters from a previous arterial spin labeling study demonstrating greater regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in these cLBP subjects than the PFCs. Cortical thickness and VBM-based gray matter volume measurements were obtained from a structural MRI scan and group contrasts were calculated.
RESULTS: Multivariate analysis of variance showed a trend toward cortical thickening in the right paracentral lobule in cLBP subjects (F1,17=3.667, P<0.067), and significant thickening in the right rostral middle frontal gyrus (F1,17=6.880, P<0.014). These clusters were non-significant after including age as a covariate (P<0.891; P<0.279). A whole-brain cortical thickness and VBM analysis also did not identify significant clusters of thinning or thickening. Exploratory analyses identified group differences for correlations between age and cortical thickness of the right rostral middle frontal gyrus (cLBP: R=-0.03, P=0.9; PFCs: R=-0.81, P<0.001), that is, PFCs demonstrated age-related thinning while cLBP patients did not.
CONCLUSIONS: Our pilot results suggest that controlling for affect, age, and concurrent medications may reduce or eliminate some of the previously reported structural brain alterations in cLBP.
BACKGROUND: Most neuroimaging studies exploring brain response to different acupoints have been performed in healthy adults. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to compare brain responses to acupuncture at local versus distal acupoints in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), who have chronic pain, versus healthy controls (HC) and correlate these responses with median nerve function. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Brain response to electroacupuncture (EA; 2Hz) was evaluated with event-related functional MRI (fMRI) in patients with CTS (n=37) and age-matched HC (n=30). EA was applied at acupoints local (PC 7 to TW 5) and distal (SP 6 to LV 4) to the CTS lesions. RESULTS: Brain response in both groups and acupoints included activation of the bilateral secondary somatosensory cortex (S2) and insula, and the contralesional primary somatosensory cortex (cS1). Deactivation was noted in ipsilesional primary somatosensory cortex (S1). A significant difference between local and distal acupoints was found in cS1 for HC, but not CTS. Furthermore, cS1 activation by EA at local acupoints was negatively correlated with median nerve peak sensory latency in HC, but was positively correlated in CTS. No correlation was found for EA at distal acupoints for either group. CONCLUSIONS: Brain response to EA differs between CTS and HC and, for local acupoint stimulation, is associated with median nerve function, reflecting the peripheral nerve pathophysiology of CTS.
The linkage between brain response to acupuncture and subsequent analgesia remains poorly understood. Our aim was to evaluate this linkage in chronic pain patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Brain response to electroacupuncture (EA) was evaluated with functional MRI. Subjects were randomized to 3 groups: (1) EA applied at local acupoints on the affected wrist (PC-7 to TW-5), (2) EA at distal acupoints (contralateral ankle, SP-6 to LV-4), and (3) sham EA at nonacupoint locations on the affected wrist. Symptom ratings were evaluated prior to and following the scan. Subjects in the local and distal groups reported reduced pain. Verum EA produced greater reduction of paresthesia compared to sham. Compared to sham EA, local EA produced greater activation in insula and S2 and greater deactivation in ipsilateral S1, while distal EA produced greater activation in S2 and deactivation in posterior cingulate cortex. Brain response to distal EA in prefrontal cortex (PFC) and brain response to verum EA in S1, SMA, and PFC were correlated with pain reduction following stimulation. Thus, while greater activation to verum acupuncture in these regions may predict subsequent analgesia, PFC activation may specifically mediate reduced pain when stimulating distal acupoints.
OBJECTIVE: Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common median nerve entrapment neuropathy characterized by pain, paresthesias, diminished peripheral nerve conduction velocity (NCV) and maladaptive functional brain neuroplasticity. We evaluated structural reorganization in brain gray (GM) and white (WM) matter and whether such plasticity is linked to altered median nerve function in CTS.
METHODS: We performed NCV testing, T1-weighted structural MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in 28 CTS and 28 age-matched healthy controls (HC). Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) contrasted regional GM volume for CTS versus HC. Significant clusters were correlated with clinical metrics and served as seeds to define associated WM tracts using DTI data and probabilistic tractography. Within these WM tracts, fractional anisotropy (FA), axial (AD) and radial (RD) diffusivity were evaluated for group differences and correlations with clinical metrics.
RESULTS: For CTS subjects, GM volume was significantly reduced in contralesional S1 (hand-area), pulvinar and frontal pole. GM volume in contralesional S1 correlated with median NCV. NCV was also correlated with RD and was negatively correlated with FA within U-fiber cortico-cortical association tracts identified from the contralesional S1 VBM seed.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study identified clear morphometric changes in the CTS brain. This central morphometric change is likely secondary to peripheral nerve pathology and altered somatosensory afference. Enhanced axonal coherence and myelination within cortico-cortical tracts connecting primary somatosensory and motor areas may accompany peripheral nerve deafferentation. As structural plasticity was correlated with NCV and not symptomatology, the former may be a better determinant of appropriate clinical intervention for CTS, including surgery.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is of paramount importance for daily life. Its regulatory action on respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, and many other systems is controlled by a number of structures in the CNS. While the majority of these nuclei and cortices have been identified in animal models, neuroimaging studies have recently begun to shed light on central autonomic processing in humans. In this study, we used activation likelihood estimation to conduct a meta-analysis of human neuroimaging experiments evaluating central autonomic processing to localize (1) cortical and subcortical areas involved in autonomic processing, (2) potential subsystems for the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of the ANS, and (3) potential subsystems for specific ANS responses to different stimuli/tasks. Across all tasks, we identified a set of consistently activated brain regions, comprising left amygdala, right anterior and left posterior insula and midcingulate cortices that form the core of the central autonomic network. While sympathetic-associated regions predominate in executive- and salience-processing networks, parasympathetic regions predominate in the default mode network. Hence, central processing of autonomic function does not simply involve a monolithic network of brain regions, instead showing elements of task and division specificity.
Nausea is a universal human experience. It evolves slowly over time, and brain mechanisms underlying this evolution are not well understood. Our functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) approach evaluated brain activity contributing to and arising from increasing motion sickness. Subjects rated transitions to increasing nausea, produced by visually induced vection within the fMRI environment. We evaluated parametrically increasing brain activity 1) precipitating increasing nausea and 2) following transition to stronger nausea. All subjects demonstrated visual stimulus-associated activation (P < 0.01) in primary and extrastriate visual cortices. In subjects experiencing motion sickness, increasing phasic activity preceding nausea was found in amygdala, putamen, and dorsal pons/locus ceruleus. Increasing sustained response following increased nausea was found in a broader network including insular, anterior cingulate, orbitofrontal, somatosensory and prefrontal cortices. Moreover, sustained anterior insula activation to strong nausea was correlated with midcingulate activation (r = 0.87), suggesting a closer linkage between these specific regions within the brain circuitry subserving nausea perception. Thus, while phasic activation in fear conditioning and noradrenergic brainstem regions precipitates transition to strong nausea, sustained activation following this transition occurs in a broader interoceptive, limbic, somatosensory, and cognitive network, reflecting the multiple dimensions of this aversive commonly occurring symptom.
Autonomic nervous system (ANS) response to acupuncture has been investigated by multiple studies; however, the brain circuitry underlying this response is not well understood. We applied event-related fMRI (er-fMRI) in conjunction with ANS recording (heart rate, HR; skin conductance response, SCR). Brief manual acupuncture stimuli were delivered at acupoints ST36 and SP9, while sham stimuli were delivered at control location, SH1. Acupuncture produced activation in S2, insula, and mid-cingulate cortex, and deactivation in default mode network (DMN) areas. On average, HR deceleration (HR-) and SCR were noted following both real and sham acupuncture, though magnitude of response was greater following real acupuncture and inter-subject magnitude of response correlated with evoked sensation intensity. Acupuncture events with strong SCR also produced greater anterior insula activation than without SCR. Moreover, acupuncture at SP9, which produced greater SCR, also produced stronger sharp pain sensation, and greater anterior insula activation. Conversely, acupuncture-induced HR- was associated with greater DMN deactivation. Between-event correlation demonstrated that this association was strongest for ST36, which also produced more robust HR-. In fact, DMN deactivation was significantly more pronounced across acupuncture stimuli producing HR-, versus those events characterized by acceleration (HR+). Thus, differential brain response underlying acupuncture stimuli may be related to differential autonomic outflows and may result from heterogeneity in evoked sensations. Our er-fMRI approach suggests that ANS response to acupuncture, consistent with previously characterized orienting and startle/defense responses, arises from activity within distinct subregions of the more general brain circuitry responding to acupuncture stimuli.
Nausea is associated with significant morbidity, and there is a wide range in the propensity of individuals to experience nausea. The neural basis of the heterogeneity in nausea susceptibility is poorly understood. Our previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study in healthy adults showed that a visual motion stimulus caused activation in the right MT+/V5 area, and that increased sensation of nausea due to this stimulus was associated with increased activation in the right anterior insula. For the current study, we hypothesized that individual differences in visual motion-induced nausea are due to microstructural differences in the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF), the white matter tract connecting the right visual motion processing area (MT+/V5) and right anterior insula. To test this hypothesis, we acquired diffusion tensor imaging data from 30 healthy adults who were subsequently dichotomized into high and low nausea susceptibility groups based on the Motion Sickness Susceptibility Scale. We quantified diffusion along the IFOF for each subject based on axial diffusivity (AD); radial diffusivity (RD), mean diffusivity (MD) and fractional anisotropy (FA), and evaluated between-group differences in these diffusion metrics. Subjects with high susceptibility to nausea rated significantly (P < 0.001) higher nausea intensity to visual motion stimuli and had significantly (P < 0.05) lower AD and MD along the right IFOF compared to subjects with low susceptibility to nausea. This result suggests that differences in white matter microstructure within tracts connecting visual motion and nausea-processing brain areas may contribute to nausea susceptibility or may have resulted from an increased history of nausea episodes.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a conservative and increasingly popular approach to treat pruritus for both patients and medical providers. CAM includes natural products, mind-body medicine, and manipulative and body-based practices. In this overview, we summarize current evidence, possible mechanisms and clinical approaches for treating pruritus with CAM techniques. We focus on pruritus associated with atopic dermatitis, herpes zoster, chronic urticaria, burns, and postoperative contexts where the evidence for CAM approaches is promising.
Neuroimaging studies have suggested the presence of alterations in the anatomo-functional properties of the brain of patients with chronic pain. However, investigation of the brain circuitry supporting the perception of clinical pain presents significant challenges, particularly when using traditional neuroimaging approaches. While potential neuroimaging markers for clinical pain have included resting brain connectivity, these cross-sectional studies have not examined sensitivity to within-subject exacerbation of pain. We used the dual regression probabilistic Independent Component Analysis approach to investigate resting-state connectivity on arterial spin labeling data. Brain connectivity was compared between patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP) and healthy controls, before and after the performance of maneuvers aimed at exacerbating clinical pain levels in the patients. Our analyses identified multiple resting state networks, including the default mode network (DMN). At baseline, patients demonstrated stronger DMN connectivity to the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), left inferior parietal lobule, and right insula (rINS). Patients' baseline clinical pain correlated positively with connectivity strength between the DMN and right insula (DMN-rINS). The performance of calibrated physical maneuvers induced changes in pain, which were paralleled by changes in DMN-rINS connectivity. Maneuvers also disrupted the DMN-pgACC connectivity, which at baseline was anticorrelated with pain. Finally, baseline DMN connectivity predicted maneuver-induced changes in both pain and DMN-rINS connectivity. Our results support the use of arterial spin labeling to evaluate clinical pain, and the use of resting DMN connectivity as a potential neuroimaging biomarker for chronic pain perception.
BACKGROUND: Migraine is a neurovascular disorder in which altered functional connectivity between pain-modulating circuits and the limbic system may play a role. Cortical spreading depression (CSD), which underlies migraine aura (MWA), induces C-fos expression in the amygdala. The role of CSD and amygdala connectivity in migraine without aura (MwoA) is less clear and may differentiate migraine from other chronic pain disorders.
METHODS: Using resting-state functional MRI, we compared functional connectivity between the amygdala and the cortex in MWA and MWoA patients as well as in healthy subjects and in two other chronic pain conditions not associated with CSD: trigeminal neuralgia (TGN) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
RESULTS: Amygdala connectivity in both MWA and MWoA was increased to the visceroceptive insula relative to all other groups examined.
CONCLUSION: The observed increased connectivity within the limbic/viscerosensory network, present only in migraineurs, adds to the evidence of a neurolimbic pain network dysfunction and may reflect repetitive episodes of CSD leading to the development of migraine pain.
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.
BACKGROUND: Clinical trials of acupuncture in chronic pain have largely failed to demonstrate efficacy of traditional over sham acupuncture. However, it should be noted that sham acupuncture is not inert. OBJECTIVE: To determine if experimental-pressure pain assessment and chemical neuroimaging can identify differential responsiveness to sham as opposed to traditional acupuncture. PATIENTS AND INTERVENTION: Fifty patients with fibromyalgia were randomized to either 9 traditional (TA) or sham (SA) acupuncture treatments over a period of 4 weeks. Both participants and assessors were blinded. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The main outcome measures were pressure-pain sensitivity at the thumbnail, insular glutamate+glutamine (Glx), and clinical pain. RESULTS: PATIENTS WITH LOW PAIN SENSITIVITY (LPS), BUT NOT WITH HIGH PAIN SENSITIVITY (HPS), HAD A SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED CLINICAL PAIN RESPONSE TO SA (CHANGE IN MEAN [STANDARD DEVIATION (SD)]: HPS -8.65 [7.91]; LPS -2.14 [6.68]; p=0.03). This relationship was not the case for TA (HPS -6.90 [4.51]; LPS -6.41 [9.25]; p=0.88). SA-treated patients who were more sensitive also had greater baseline levels of insular Glx than patients who were less sensitive (Glx mean [SD]: HPS 11.3 [1.18]; LPS 10.2 [0.54]; p=0.04). CONCLUSIONS: Pressure-pain testing may identify patients who are less likely to respond to SA. This effect may relate to the levels of brain excitatory neurotransmitters.
A fundamental characteristic of neural circuits is the capacity for plasticity in response to experience. Neural plasticity is associated with the development of chronic pain disorders. In this study, we investigated 1) brain resting state functional connectivity (FC) differences between patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP) and matched healthy controls (HC); 2) FC differences within the cLBP patients as they experienced different levels of endogenous low back pain evoked by exercise maneuvers, and 3) morphometric differences between cLBP patients and matched HC. We found the dynamic character of FC in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) in cLBP patients, i.e., S1 FC decreased when the patients experienced low intensity LBP as compared with matched healthy controls, and FC at S1 increased when cLBP patients experienced high intensity LBP as compared with the low intensity condition. In addition, we also found increased cortical thickness in the bilateral S1 somatotopically associated with the lower back in cLBP patients as compared to healthy controls. Our results provide evidence of structural plasticity co-localized with areas exhibiting FC changes in S1 in cLBP patients.
Recent functional brain connectivity studies have contributed to our understanding of the neurocircuitry supporting pain perception. However, evoked-pain connectivity studies have employed cutaneous and/or brief stimuli, which induce sensations that differ appreciably from the clinical pain experience. Sustained myofascial pain evoked by pressure cuff affords an excellent opportunity to evaluate functional connectivity change to more clinically relevant sustained deep-tissue pain. Connectivity in specific networks known to be modulated by evoked pain (sensorimotor, salience, dorsal attention, frontoparietal control, and default mode networks: SMN, SLN, DAN, FCN, and DMN) was evaluated with functional-connectivity magnetic resonance imaging, both at rest and during a sustained (6-minute) pain state in healthy adults. We found that pain was stable, with no significant changes of subjects' pain ratings over the stimulation period. Sustained pain reduced connectivity between the SMN and the contralateral leg primary sensorimotor (S1/M1) representation. Such SMN-S1/M1 connectivity decreases were also accompanied by and correlated with increased SLN-S1/M1 connectivity, suggesting recruitment of activated S1/M1 from SMN to SLN. Sustained pain also increased DAN connectivity to pain processing regions such as mid-cingulate cortex, posterior insula, and putamen. Moreover, greater connectivity during pain between contralateral S1/M1 and posterior insula, thalamus, putamen, and amygdala was associated with lower cuff pressures needed to reach the targeted pain sensation. These results demonstrate that sustained pain disrupts resting S1/M1 connectivity by shifting it to a network known to process stimulus salience. Furthermore, increased connectivity between S1/M1 and both sensory and affective processing areas may be an important contribution to interindividual differences in pain sensitivity.
BACKGROUND: Itch is the major symptom of atopic dermatitis (AD). Acupuncture has been shown to exhibit a significant effect on experimental itch in AD. Our study evaluated acupuncture and antihistamine itch therapy (cetirizine) on type I hypersensitivity itch and skin reaction in AD using a patient and examiner-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial.
METHODS: Allergen-induced itch was evaluated in 20 patients with AD after several interventions in separate sessions: preventive (preceding) and abortive (concurrent) verum acupuncture (VAp and VAa), cetirizine (10 mg, VC), corresponding placebo interventions (preventive, PAp, and abortive, PAa, placebo acupuncture; placebo cetirizine pill, PC) and a no-intervention control (NI). Itch was induced on the forearm and temperature modulated over 20 min, using our validated model. Outcome parameters included itch intensity, wheal and flare size and the D2 attention test.
RESULTS: Mean itch intensity (SE: 0.31 each) was significantly lower following VAa (31.9) compared with all other groups (PAa: 36.5; VC: 36.8; VAp: 37.6; PC: 39.8; PAp: 39.9; NI: 45.7; P < 0.05). There was no significant difference between VAp and VC (P > 0.1), although both therapies were significantly superior to their respective placebo interventions (P < 0.05). Flare size following VAp was significantly smaller (P = 0.034) than that following PAp. D2 attention test score was significantly lower following VC compared with all other groups (P < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: Both VA and cetirizine significantly reduced type I hypersensitivity itch in patients with AD, compared with both placebo and NI. Timing of acupuncture application was important, as VAa had the most significant effect on itch, potentially because of counter-irritation and/or distraction. Itch reduction following cetirizine coincided with reduced attention.