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1.  A Novel Tool for the Assessment of Pain: Validation in Low Back Pain 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(4):e1000047.
Joachim Scholz and colleagues develop and validate an assessment tool that distinguishes between radicular and axial low back pain.
Adequate pain assessment is critical for evaluating the efficacy of analgesic treatment in clinical practice and during the development of new therapies. Yet the currently used scores of global pain intensity fail to reflect the diversity of pain manifestations and the complexity of underlying biological mechanisms. We have developed a tool for a standardized assessment of pain-related symptoms and signs that differentiates pain phenotypes independent of etiology.
Methods and Findings
Using a structured interview (16 questions) and a standardized bedside examination (23 tests), we prospectively assessed symptoms and signs in 130 patients with peripheral neuropathic pain caused by diabetic polyneuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, or radicular low back pain (LBP), and in 57 patients with non-neuropathic (axial) LBP. A hierarchical cluster analysis revealed distinct association patterns of symptoms and signs (pain subtypes) that characterized six subgroups of patients with neuropathic pain and two subgroups of patients with non-neuropathic pain. Using a classification tree analysis, we identified the most discriminatory assessment items for the identification of pain subtypes. We combined these six interview questions and ten physical tests in a pain assessment tool that we named Standardized Evaluation of Pain (StEP). We validated StEP for the distinction between radicular and axial LBP in an independent group of 137 patients. StEP identified patients with radicular pain with high sensitivity (92%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 83%–97%) and specificity (97%; 95% CI 89%–100%). The diagnostic accuracy of StEP exceeded that of a dedicated screening tool for neuropathic pain and spinal magnetic resonance imaging. In addition, we were able to reproduce subtypes of radicular and axial LBP, underscoring the utility of StEP for discerning distinct constellations of symptoms and signs.
We present a novel method of identifying pain subtypes that we believe reflect underlying pain mechanisms. We demonstrate that this new approach to pain assessment helps separate radicular from axial back pain. Beyond diagnostic utility, a standardized differentiation of pain subtypes that is independent of disease etiology may offer a unique opportunity to improve targeted analgesic treatment.
Editors' Summary
Pain, although unpleasant, is essential for survival. Whenever the body is damaged, nerve cells detecting the injury send an electrical message via the spinal cord to the brain and, as a result, action is taken to prevent further damage. Usually pain is short-lived, but sometimes it continues for weeks, months, or years. Long-lasting (chronic) pain can be caused by an ongoing, often inflammatory condition (for example, arthritis) or by damage to the nervous system itself—experts call this “neuropathic” pain. Damage to the brain or spinal cord causes central neuropathic pain; damage to the nerves that convey information from distant parts of the body to the spinal cord causes peripheral neuropathic pain. One example of peripheral neuropathic pain is “radicular” low back pain (also called sciatica). This is pain that radiates from the back into the legs. By contrast, axial back pain (the most common type of low back pain) is confined to the lower back and is non-neuropathic.
Why Was This Study Done?
Chronic pain is very common—nearly 10% of American adults have frequent back pain, for example—and there are many treatments for it, including rest, regulated exercise (physical therapy), pain-killing drugs (analgesics), and surgery. However, the best treatment for any individual depends on the exact nature of their pain, so it is important to assess their pain carefully before starting treatment. This is usually done by scoring overall pain intensity, but this assessment does not reflect the characteristics of the pain (for example, whether it occurs spontaneously or in response to external stimuli) or the complex biological processes involved in pain generation. An assessment designed to take such factors into account might improve treatment outcomes and could be useful in the development of new therapies. In this study, the researchers develop and test a new, standardized tool for the assessment of chronic pain that, by examining many symptoms and signs, aims to distinguish between pain subtypes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
One hundred thirty patients with several types of peripheral neuropathic pain and 57 patients with non-neuropathic (axial) low back pain completed a structured interview of 16 questions and a standardized bedside examination of 23 tests. Patients were asked, for example, to choose words that described their pain from a list provided by the researchers and to grade the intensity of particular aspects of their pain from zero (no pain) to ten (the maximum imaginable pain). Bedside tests included measurements of responses to light touch, pinprick, and vibration—chronic pain often alters responses to harmless stimuli. Using “hierarchical cluster analysis,” the researchers identified six subgroups of patients with neuropathic pain and two subgroups of patients with non-neuropathic pain based on the patterns of symptoms and signs revealed by the interviews and physical tests. They then used “classification tree analysis” to identify the six questions and ten physical tests that discriminated best between pain subtypes and combined these items into a tool for a Standardized Evaluation of Pain (StEP). Finally, the researchers asked whether StEP, which took 10–15 minutes, could identify patients with radicular back pain and discriminate them from those with axial back pain in an independent group of 137 patients with chronic low back pain. StEP, they report, accurately diagnosed these two conditions and was well accepted by the patients.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that a standardized assessment of pain-related signs and symptoms can provide a simple, quick diagnostic procedure that distinguishes between radicular (neuropathic) and axial (non-neuropathic) low back pain. This distinction is crucial because these types of back pain are best treated in different ways. In addition, the findings suggest that it might be possible to identify additional pain subtypes using StEP. Because these subtypes may represent conditions in which different pain mechanisms are acting, classifying patients in this way might eventually enable physicians to tailor treatments for chronic pain to the specific needs of individual patients rather than, as at present, largely guessing which of the available treatments is likely to work best.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Giorgio Cruccu and and Andrea Truini
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides a primer on pain in English and Spanish
In its 2006 report on the health status of the US, the National Center for Health Statistics provides a special feature on the epidemiology of pain, including back pain
The Pain Treatment Topics Web site is a resource, sponsored partly by associations and manufacturers, that provides information on all aspects of pain and its treatment for health care professionals and their patients
Medline Plus provides a brief description of pain and of back pain and links to further information on both topics (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia also has a page on low back pain (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2661253  PMID: 19360087
2.  Central Sensitization: A Generator of Pain Hypersensitivity by Central Neural Plasticity 
Central sensitization represents an enhancement in the function of neurons and circuits in nociceptive pathways caused by increases in membrane excitability and synaptic efficacy as well as to reduced inhibition and is a manifestation of the remarkable plasticity of the somatosensory nervous system in response to activity, inflammation, and neural injury. The net effect of central sensitization is to recruit previously subthreshold synaptic inputs to nociceptive neurons, generating an increased or augmented action potential output: a state of facilitation, potentiation, augmentation, or amplification. Central sensitization is responsible for many of the temporal, spatial, and threshold changes in pain sensibility in acute and chronic clinical pain settings and exemplifies the fundamental contribution of the central nervous system to the generation of pain hypersensitivity. Because central sensitization results from changes in the properties of neurons in the central nervous system, the pain is no longer coupled, as acute nociceptive pain is, to the presence, intensity, or duration of noxious peripheral stimuli. Instead, central sensitization produces pain hypersensitivity by changing the sensory response elicited by normal inputs, including those that usually evoke innocuous sensations.
In this article, we review the major triggers that initiate and maintain central sensitization in healthy individuals in response to nociceptor input and in patients with inflammatory and neuropathic pain, emphasizing the fundamental contribution and multiple mechanisms of synaptic plasticity caused by changes in the density, nature, and properties of ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate receptors.
PMCID: PMC2750819  PMID: 19712899
Central sensitization; inflammatory pain; neuropathic pain; scaffolding protein; heterosynaptic facilitation
3.  Monoarticular antigen-induced arthritis leads to pronounced bilateral upregulation of the expression of neurokinin 1 and bradykinin 2 receptors in dorsal root ganglion neurons of rats 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(5):424-427.
This study describes the upregulation of neurokinin 1 and bradykinin 2 receptors in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in the course of antigen-induced arthritis (AIA) in the rat knee. In the acute phase of AIA, which was characterized by pronounced hyperalgesia, there was a substantial bilateral increase in the proportion of lumbar DRG neurons that express neurokinin 1 receptors (activated by substance P) and bradykinin 2 receptors. In the chronic phase the upregulation of bradykinin 2 receptors persisted on the side of inflammation. The increase in the receptor expression is relevant for the generation of acute and chronic inflammatory pain.
Ongoing pain and hyperalgesia (enhanced pain response to stimulation of the tissue) are major symptoms of arthritis. Arthritic pain results from the activation and sensitization of primary afferent nociceptive nerve fibres ('pain fibres') supplying the tissue (peripheral sensitization) and from the activation and sensitization of nociceptive neurons in the central nervous system (central sensitization). After sensitization, nociceptive neurons respond more strongly to mechanical and thermal stimulation of the tissue, and their activation threshold is lowered. The activation and sensitization of primary afferent fibres results from the action of inflammatory mediators such as bradykinin (BK), prostaglandins and others on membrane receptors located on these neurons. BK is a potent pain-producing substance that is contained in inflammatory exudates. Up to 50% of the primary afferent nerve fibres have receptors for BK. When primary afferent nerve fibres are activated they can release neuropeptides such as substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide from their sensory endings in the tissue. SP contributes to the inflammatory changes in the innervated tissue (neurogenic inflammation), and it might also support the sensitization of nociceptive nerve fibres by binding to neurokinin 1 (NK1) receptors. NK1 receptors are normally expressed on a small proportion of the primary afferent nerve fibres.
Because the expression of receptors on the primary afferent neurons is essential for the pain-producing action of inflammatory mediators and neuropeptides, we investigated in the present study whether the expression of BK and NK1 receptors on primary afferent neurons is altered during the acute and chronic phases of an antigen-induced arthritis (AIA). AIA resembles in many aspects the inflammatory process of human rheumatoid arthritis. Because peptide receptors are expressed not only in the terminals of the primary afferent units but also in the cell bodies, we removed dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) of both sides from control rats and from rats with the acute or chronic phase of AIA and determined, after short-term culture of the neurons, the proportion of DRG neurons that expressed the receptors in the different phases of AIA. We also characterized the inflammatory process and the nociceptive behaviour of the rats in the course of AIA.
Materials and methods:
In 33 female Lewis rats 10 weeks old, AIA was induced in the right knee joint. First the rats were immunized in two steps with methylated bovine serum albumin (m-BSA) emulsified with Freund's complete adjuvant, and heat-inactivated Bordetella pertussis. After immunization, m-BSA was injected into the right knee joint cavity to induce arthritis. The joint swelling was measured at regular intervals. Nociceptive (pain) responses to mechanical stimulation of the injected and the contralateral knee were monitored in the course of AIA. Groups of rats were killed at different time points after the induction of AIA, and inflammation and destruction in the knee joint were graded by histological examination. The DRGs of both sides were dissected from segments L1–L5 and C1–C7 from arthritic rats, from eight immunized rats without arthritis and from ten normal control rats. Excised DRGs were dissociated into single cells which were cultured for 18 h.
The expression of the receptors was determined by assessment of the binding of SP-gold or BK-gold to the cultured neurons. For this purpose the cells were slightly fixed. Binding of SP-gold or BK-gold was detected by using enhancement with silver and subsequent densitometric analysis of the relative grey values of the neurons. Displacement controls were performed with SP, the specific NK1 receptor agonist [Sar9, Met(O2)11]-SP, BK, the specific BK 1 (B1) receptor agonist D-Arg (Hyp3-Thi5,8-D-Phe7)-BK and the specific BK 2 (B2) receptor agonist (Des-Arg10)-Lys-BK.
The inflammatory process in the injected right knee joint started on the first day after induction of AIA and persisted throughout the observation period of 84 days (Fig. 1). The initial phase of AIA was characterized by strong joint swelling and a predominantly granulocytic infiltration of the synovial membrane and the joint cavity (acute inflammatory changes). In the later phases of AIA (10–84 days after induction of AIA) the joint showed persistent swelling, and signs of chronic arthritic alterations such as infiltration of mononuclear leucocytes, hyperplasia of synovial lining layer (pannus formation) and erosions of cartilage and bone were predominant. The contralateral knee joints appeared normal at all time points. Destruction was observed only in the injected knee but some proteoglycan loss was also noted in the non-injected, contralateral knee. In the acute and initial chronic phases of AIA (1–29 days) the rats showed mechanical hyperalgesia in the inflamed knee (limping, withdrawal response to gentle pressure onto the knee). In the acute phase (up to 9 days) a pain response was also seen when gentle pressure was applied to the contralateral knee.
Figure 2 displays the changes in the receptor expression in the DRG neurons during AIA. The expression of SP–gold-binding sites in lumbar DRG neurons (Fig. 2a) was substantially increased in the acute phase of arthritis. In untreated control rats (n = 5), 7.7 ± 3.8% of the DRG neurons from the right side and 10.0 ± 1.7% of the DRG neurons from the left side showed labelling with SP–gold. The proportion of SP–gold-labelled neurons in immunized animals without knee injection (n = 3) was similar. By contrast, at days 1 (n = 2 rats) and 3 (n = 5 rats) of AIA in the right knee, approximately 50% of the DRG neurons exhibited labelling with SP–gold, and this was seen both on the side of the injected knee and on the opposite side. At day 10 of AIA (n = 3 rats), 26.3 ± 6.1% of the ipsilateral DRG neurons but only 15.7 ± 0.6% of the contralateral neurons exhibited binding of SP–gold. At days 21 (n = 5 rats), 42 (n = 3 rats) and 84 (n = 5 rats) of AIA, the proportion of SP–gold-positive neurons had returned to the control values, although the arthritis, now with signs of chronic inflammation, was still present. Compared with the DRG neurons of the untreated control rats, the increase in the proportion of labelled neurons was significant on both sides in the acute phase (days 1 and 3) and the intermediate phase (day 10) of AIA (Mann–Whitney U-test). The size distribution of the neurons was similar in the DRG neurons of all experimental groups. Under all conditions and at all time points, SP–gold binding was found mainly in small and medium-sized (less than 700 μm2) neurons. In the cervical DRGs the expression of NK1 receptors did not change in the course of AIA. The binding of SP–gold to the neurons was suppressed by the coadministration of the specific NK1 receptor agonist [Sar9, Met(O2)11]–SP in three experiments, showing that SP–gold was bound to NK1 receptors.
The expression of BK–gold-binding sites in the lumbar DRG neurons showed also changes in the course of AIA, but the pattern was different (Fig. 2b). In untreated control rats (n = 5), 42.3 ± 3.1% of the DRG neurons of the right side and 39.6 ± 2.6% of the DRG neurons of the left side showed binding of BK–gold. At days 1 (n = 2 rats) and 3 (n = 5 rats) of AIA, approximately 80% of the DRG neurons on the side of the knee injection (ipsilateral) and approximately 70% on the opposite side were labelled. In comparison with the untreated control group, the increase in the proportion of labelled neurons was significant on both sides. The proportion of labelled neurons in the ipsilateral DRGs remained significantly increased in both the intermediate phase (day 10, n = 3 rats) and chronic phase (days 21, n = 5 rats, and 42, n = 3 rats) of inflammation. At 84 days after the induction of AIA (n = 5 rats), 51.0 ± 12.7% of the neurons showed an expression of BK–gold-binding sites and this was close to the prearthritic values. However, in the contralateral DRG of the same animals the proportion of BK–gold-labelled neurons declined in the intermediate phase (day 10) and chronic phase (days 21–84) of AIA and was not significantly different from the control value. Thus the increase in BK–gold-labelled neurons was persistent on the side where the inflammation had been induced, and transient on the opposite side. The size distribution of the DRG neurons of the different experimental groups was similar. In the cervical DRGs the expression of BK receptors did not change in the course of AIA. In another series of experiments, we determined the subtype(s) of BK receptor(s) that were expressed in DRGs L1–L5 in different experimental groups. In neither untreated control animals (n = 5) nor immunized rats without knee injection (n = 5) nor in rats at 3 days (n = 5) and 42 days (n = 5) of AIA was the binding of BK–gold decreased by the coadministration of BK–gold and the B1 agonist. By contrast, in these experimental groups the binding of BK–gold was suppressed by the coadministration of the B2 agonist. These results show that B2 receptors, but not B1 receptors, were expressed in both normal animals and in animals with AIA.
These results show that in AIA in the rat the expression of SP-binding and BK-binding sites in the perikarya of DRGs L1–L5 is markedly upregulated in the course of knee inflammation. Although the inflammation was induced on one side only, the initial changes in the binding sites were found in the lumbar DRGs of both sides. No upregulation of SP-binding or BK-binding sites was observed in the cervical DRGs. The expression of SP-binding sites was upregulated only in the first days of AIA, that is, in the acute phase, in which the pain responses to mechanical stimulation were most pronounced. By contrast, the upregulation of BK-binding sites on the side of AIA persisted for up to 42 days, that is, in the acute and chronic phase of AIA. Only the B2 receptor, not the B1 receptor, was upregulated. The coincidence of the enhanced expression of NK1 and BK receptors on sensory neurons and the pain behaviour suggests that the upregulation of these receptors is relevant for the generation and maintenance of arthritic pain.
In the acute phase of AIA, approximately 50% of the lumbar DRG neurons showed an expression of SP-binding sites. Because peptide receptors are transported to the periphery, the marked upregulation of SP-binding receptors probably leads to an enhanced density of receptors in the sensory endings of the primary afferent units. This will permit SP to sensitize more neurons under inflammatory conditions than under normal conditions. However, the expression of NK1 receptors was upregulated only in the acute phase of inflammation, suggesting that SP and NK1 receptors are less important for the generation of hyperalgesia in the chronic phase of AIA.
Because BK is one of the most potent algesic compounds, the functional consequence of the upregulation of BK receptors is likely to be of immediate importance for the generation and maintenance of inflammatory pain. The persistence of the upregulation of BK receptors on the side of inflammation suggests that BK receptors should be an interesting target for pain treatment in the acute and chronic phases. Only B2 receptors were identified in normal animals and in rats with AIA. This is surprising because previous pharmacological studies have provided evidence that, during inflammation, B1 receptors can be newly expressed.
Receptor upregulation in the acute phase of AIA was bilateral and almost symmetrical. However, hyperalgesia was much more pronounced on the inflamed side. It is most likely that receptors on the contralateral side were not readily activated because in the absence of gross inflammation the local concentration of the ligands BK and SP was probably quite low. We hypothesize that the bilateral changes in receptor expression are generated at least in part by mechanisms involving the nervous system. Symmetrical segmental changes can be produced only by the symmetrical innervation, involving either the sympathetic nervous system or the primary afferent fibres. Under inflammatory conditions, primary afferent fibres can be antidromically activated bilaterally in the entry zone of afferent fibres in the spinal cord, and it was proposed that this antidromic activation might release neuropeptides and thus contribute to neurogenic inflammation. Because both sympathetic efferent fibres and primary afferent nerve fibres can aggravate inflammatory symptoms, it is also conceivable that they are involved in the regulation of receptor expression in primary afferent neurons. A neurogenic mechanism might also have been responsible for the bilateral degradation of articular cartilage in the present study.
PMCID: PMC17819  PMID: 11056677
antigen-induced arthritis; bradykinin receptor; dorsal root ganglion neurons; neurokinin 1 receptor; pain
4.  Pathogenesis and clinical aspects of pain in patients with osteoporosis 
Bone pain is one of the most frequent kinds of chronic pain, mainly in elderly patients. It causes a significant worsening of functional capacity and deterioration in the quality of life in people affected. Mechanisms of pain in osteoporosis are poorly known and often extrapolated by other pathologies or other experimental model. One of principal causes would be a “hyper-remodeling” of bone, that involves osteoclasts activity and pathological modifications of bone innervation. Several studies show that osteoclasts play a significant role in bone pain etiology.
Pain in osteoporosis is mainly nociceptive, if it become persistent a sensitization of peripheral and central nervous system can occur, so underlining the transition to a chronic pain syndrome. Central sensitization mechanisms are complex and involve several neuromediators and receptors (Substance P, NMDA, etc.).
Most common manifestations of osteoporosis are vertebral compression fractures that cause persistent pain, though to differentiate from pain originating in structures as joint or muscle. First manifestation can be an acute pain due to pathological fracture, those of hip often causes disability.
Pain in osteoporosis is an important clinical challenge. Often its complications and consequences on patient quality of life are underestimated with not negligible social implications.
A balanced and early multimodal pain therapy including opioids as necessary, even in cases of acute pain, improve the functional capacity of patients and helps to prevent neurological alterations that seems to contribute in significant way in causing irreversible pain chronic syndromes.
PMCID: PMC4269137  PMID: 25568647
chronic pain; bone innervation; osteoclasts activity; opioids
5.  Chronic musculoskeletal pain: review of mechanisms and biochemical biomarkers as assessed by the microdialysis technique 
Journal of Pain Research  2014;7:313-326.
Chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions are multifaceted, and approximately 20% of the adult population lives with severe chronic pain, with a higher prevalence in women and in lower income groups. Chronic pain is influenced by and interacts with physical, emotional, psychological, and social factors, and a biopsychosocial framework is increasingly applied in clinical practice. However, there is still a lack of assessment procedures based on the activated neurobiological pain mechanisms (ie, the biological part of the biopsychosocial model of pain), which may be a necessary step for further optimizing outcomes after treatments for patients with chronic pain. It has been suggested that chronic pain conditions are mainly driven by alterations in the central nervous system with little or no peripheral stimuli or nociception. In contrast, other authors argue that such central alterations are driven by peripheral alterations and nociceptive input. Microdialysis is an in vivo method for studying local tissue alterations and allows for sampling of substances in the interstitium of the muscle, where nociceptor free nerve endings are found close to the muscle fibers. The extracellular matrix plays a key role in physiologic functions of cells, including the primary afferent nociceptor. The present review mainly concerns the results of microdialysis studies and how they can contribute to the understanding of activated peripheral nociceptive and pain mechanisms in humans with chronic pain. The primary aim was to review molecular studies using microdialysis for the investigation of human chronic muscle pain, ie, chronic masticatory muscle pain, chronic trapezius myalgia, chronic whiplash-associated disorders, and chronic widespread pain/fibromyalgia syndrome. Several studies clearly showed elevated levels of serotonin, glutamate, lactate, and pyruvate in localized chronic myalgias and may be potential biomarkers. These results indicate that peripheral muscle alterations are parts of the activated pain mechanisms in common chronic pain conditions. Muscle alterations have been reported in fibromyalgia syndrome and chronic widespread pain, but more studies are needed before definite conclusions can be drawn. For other substances, results are inconclusive across studies and patient groups.
PMCID: PMC4062547  PMID: 24966693
algesic; biomarker; human; metabolism; nociception; pain
6.  Evaluation of a magnetic resonance-compatible dentoalveolar tactile stimulus device 
BMC Neuroscience  2010;11:142.
Few methods exist to study central nervous system processes following dentoalveolar tactile stimulation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), likely due to inherent technical difficulties. Our primary goal was to develop and perform feasibility testing of a novel device capable of delivering valid and reliable dentoalveolar stimuli at dental chair-side and during MRI. Details of a device designed to deliver dentoalveolar dynamic pressure stimuli are described. Device testing took place in three settings: a) laboratory testing to assess range of stimulus force intensities, b) dental chair-side to assess reliability, validity and discriminant ability in force-pain relationship; and c) MRI to evaluate magnetic compatibility and ability to evoke brain activation in painfree subjects similar to those described in the literature.
A novel device capable of delivering valid and reliable dentoalveolar somatosensory stimulation was developed (ICC = 0.89, 0.78-1 [95% CI]). Psychophysical data analysis showed high discriminant ability in differentiating painfree controls from cases with chronic dentoalveolar pain related to deafferenting dental procedures (sensitivity = 100%, specificity = 86.7%, area under ROC curve = 0.99). FMRI results of dentoalveolar dynamic pressure pain in painfree subjects revealed activation of brain areas typically associated with acute pain processing including thalamus, primary/secondary somatosensory, insular and prefrontal cortex.
A novel psychophysical method to deliver dynamic dentoalveolar pressure stimulation was developed and validated, allowing non-invasive MRI-based exploration of central nervous system function in response to intraoral somatosensation.
The organization of the trigeminal system is unique as it provides somatosensory innervation to the face, masticatory and oral structures, the majority of the intracranial contents [1] and to specialized structures (tongue, nasal mucosa, auricle, tympanic membrane, cornea and part of the conjunctiva) [2]. Somatic sensory information transmitted by the trigeminal nerve is crucial for normal orofacial function; however, the mechanisms of many chronic pain conditions affecting areas innervated by this sensory system are not well understood [3-5]. The clinical presentation of chronic intraoral pain in the area of a tooth or in a site formally occupied by a tooth with no clinical or radiological signs of pathology, referred to as atypical odontalgia (AO) [6,7], is one such chronic pain condition of particular interest to dentists that is difficult to diagnose and manage. Recent research suggests both peripheral and central nervous system mechanisms being involved in AO pathophysiology [8-10], but the majority of mechanism-based research of patients with AO has focused on the "peripheral aspect" [7].
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is an established research technique to study the central aspects of pain [11]. Of existing neuroimaging techniques, fMRI provides good spatial resolution of cortical and subcortical structures critical in the processing of nociception, acceptable temporal resolution, does not involve ionizing radiation, and can be performed using most MRI systems that already exist in research centers and the community. For these reasons, we sought to develop a protocol that allows us to use this tool to investigate the central mechanisms involved in the processes of intraoral pain arising from the dentoalveolar region. Using this device, our long-term objective is to improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of persistent dentoalveolar pain.
In the past few years several studies used fMRI to investigate the human trigeminal system [12,13], with a limited subset focusing on intraoral stimulation - specifically on the dentoalveolar processes, such as lip, tongue and teeth stimulation [14] or only teeth [15-17]. Some reasons for scarce literature on this topic may be the technical challenges involved in delivering facial/intraoral stimulation inside a MR scanner [17,18]: possibility of magnetic interference, detriment of image quality, subject discomfort and reduced working space between the subject's head and the radiofrequency coil. As a consequence a MR-compatible device would need to not only overcome these challenges but also be capable of delivering a controlled and reproducible stimuli [19], as reliability/reproducibility is a necessary feature of sensory testing [20].
Existing MR-compatible methods of dentoalveolar stimulation are limited and do not adequately deliver stimuli across a range of non-painful to painful intensities and/or cannot be adjusted to reach posterior aspects of the dentoalveolar region. Therefore our goal was to develop and test the feasibility of a device able to: 1) provide reliable and valid dentoalveolar stimuli, 2) deliver such stimulation within the restricted space of an MR head coil, 3) be compatible for use within an MR environment, and 4) produce brain activation in painfree controls consistent to those observed by others using fMRI.
PMCID: PMC2988799  PMID: 21029454
7.  Self-injurious behaviour in intellectual disability syndromes: evidence for aberrant pain signalling as a contributing factor 
In most individuals, injury results in activation of peripheral nociceptors (pain-sensing neurons of the peripheral nervous system) and amplification of central nervous system (CNS) pain pathways that serve as a disincentive to continue harmful behaviour; however, this may not be the case in some developmental disorders that cause intellectual disability (ID). Moreover, individuals affected by ID disorders may initiate self-injurious behaviour to address irritating or painful sensations. In normal individuals, a negative feedback loop decreases sensation of pain, which involves descending inhibitory neurons in the CNS that attenuate spinal nociceptive processing. If spinal nociceptive signalling is impaired in these developmental disorders, an exaggerated painful stimulus may be required in order to engage descending anti-nociceptive signals.
Using electronic databases, we conducted a review of publications regarding the incidence of chronic pain or altered pain sensation in ID patients or corresponding preclinical models.
There is a body of evidence indicating that individuals with fragile X mental retardation and/or Rett syndrome have altered pain sensation. These findings in humans are supported by mechanistic studies using genetically modified mice harbouring mutations consistent with the human disease. Thus, once self-injurious behaviour is initiated, the signal to stop may be missing. Several developmental disorders that cause ID are associated with increased incidence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can cause severe visceral pain. Individuals affected by these disorders who also have GERD may self-injure as a mechanism to engage descending inhibitory circuits to quell visceral pain. In keeping with this hypothesis, pharmacological treatment of GERD has been shown to be effective for reducing self-injurious behaviour in some patients. Hence, multiple lines of evidence suggest aberrant nociceptive processing in developmental disorders that cause ID.
There is evidence that pain pathways and pain amplification mechanisms are altered in several preclinical models of developmental disorders that cause ID. We present hypotheses regarding how impaired pain pathways or chronic pain might contribute to self-injurious behaviour. Studies evaluating the relationship between pain and self-injurious behaviour will provide better understanding of the mechanisms underlying self-injurious behaviour in the ID population and may lead to more effective treatments.
PMCID: PMC3272540  PMID: 21917053
central sensitization; diffuse noxious inhibitory control; fragile X; pain; Rett syndrome; self-injury
8.  Mechanistic experimental pain assessment in computer users with and without chronic musculoskeletal pain 
Musculoskeletal pain from the upper extremity and shoulder region is commonly reported by computer users. However, the functional status of central pain mechanisms, i.e., central sensitization and conditioned pain modulation (CPM), has not been investigated in this population. The aim was to evaluate sensitization and CPM in computer users with and without chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Pressure pain threshold (PPT) mapping in the neck-shoulder (15 points) and the elbow (12 points) was assessed together with PPT measurement at mid-point in the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle among 47 computer users with chronic pain in the upper extremity and/or neck-shoulder pain (pain group) and 17 pain-free computer users (control group). Induced pain intensities and profiles over time were recorded using a 0-10 cm electronic visual analogue scale (VAS) in response to different levels of pressure stimuli on the forearm with a new technique of dynamic pressure algometry. The efficiency of CPM was assessed using cuff-induced pain as conditioning pain stimulus and PPT at TA as test stimulus.
The demographics, job seniority and number of working hours/week using a computer were similar between groups. The PPTs measured at all 15 points in the neck-shoulder region were not significantly different between groups. There were no significant differences between groups neither in PPTs nor pain intensity induced by dynamic pressure algometry. No significant difference in PPT was observed in TA between groups. During CPM, a significant increase in PPT at TA was observed in both groups (P < 0.05) without significant differences between groups. For the chronic pain group, higher clinical pain intensity, lower PPT values from the neck-shoulder and higher pain intensity evoked by the roller were all correlated with less efficient descending pain modulation (P < 0.05).
This suggests that the excitability of the central pain system is normal in a large group of computer users with low pain intensity chronic upper extremity and/or neck-shoulder pain and that increased excitability of the pain system cannot explain the reported pain. However, computer users with higher pain intensity and lower PPTs were found to have decreased efficiency in descending pain modulation.
PMCID: PMC4265505  PMID: 25481709
Sensitization; Pain mechanisms; Computer work; Conditioned pain modulation; Work-related musculoskeletal disorders; Pressure pain threshold; Experimental pain
9.  Visceral Pain: The Neurophysiological Mechanism 
The mechanism of visceral pain is still less understood compared with that of somatic pain. This is primarily due to the diverse nature of visceral pain compounded by multiple factors such as sexual dimorphism, psychological stress, genetic trait, and the nature of predisposed disease. Due to multiple contributing factors there is an enormous challenge to develop animal models that ideally mimic the exact disease condition. In spite of that, it is well recognized that visceral hypersensitivity can occur due to (1) sensitization of primary sensory afferents innervating the viscera, (2) hyperexcitability of spinal ascending neurons (central sensitization) receiving synaptic input from the viscera, and (3) dysregulation of descending pathways that modulate spinal nociceptive transmission. Depending on the type of stimulus condition, different neural pathways are involved in chronic pain. In early-life psychological stress such as maternal separation, chronic pain occurs later in life due to dysregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and significant increase in corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) secretion. In contrast, in early-life inflammatory conditions such as colitis and cystitis, there is dysregulation of the descending opioidergic system that results excessive pain perception (i.e., visceral hyperalgesia). Functional bowel disorders and chronic pelvic pain represent unexplained pain that is not associated with identifiable organic diseases. Often pain overlaps between two organs and approximately 35% of patients with chronic pelvic pain showed significant improvement when treated for functional bowel disorders. Animal studies have documented that two main components such as (1) dichotomy of primary afferent fibers innervating two pelvic organs and (2) common convergence of two afferent fibers onto a spinal dorsal horn are contributing factors for organ-to-organ pain overlap. With reports emerging about the varieties of peptide molecules involved in the pathological conditions of visceral pain, it is expected that better therapy will be achieved relatively soon to manage chronic visceral pain.
PMCID: PMC3156094  PMID: 19655104
Visceral pain; Visceral afferents; Spinal cord; Pelvic nerve; Splanchnic nerve; Colon; Urinary bladder; Gender difference; Sensitization
10.  Shape shifting pain: chronification of back pain shifts brain representation from nociceptive to emotional circuits 
Brain  2013;136(9):2751-2768.
Chronic pain conditions are associated with abnormalities in brain structure and function. Moreover, some studies indicate that brain activity related to the subjective perception of chronic pain may be distinct from activity for acute pain. However, the latter are based on observations from cross-sectional studies. How brain activity reorganizes with transition from acute to chronic pain has remained unexplored. Here we study this transition by examining brain activity for rating fluctuations of back pain magnitude. First we compared back pain-related brain activity between subjects who have had the condition for ∼2 months with no prior history of back pain for 1 year (early, acute/subacute back pain group, n = 94), to subjects who have lived with back pain for >10 years (chronic back pain group, n = 59). In a subset of subacute back pain patients, we followed brain activity for back pain longitudinally over a 1-year period, and compared brain activity between those who recover (recovered acute/sub-acute back pain group, n = 19) and those in which the back pain persists (persistent acute/sub-acute back pain group, n = 20; based on a 20% decrease in intensity of back pain in 1 year). We report results in relation to meta-analytic probabilistic maps related to the terms pain, emotion, and reward (each map is based on >200 brain imaging studies, derived from We observed that brain activity for back pain in the early, acute/subacute back pain group is limited to regions involved in acute pain, whereas in the chronic back pain group, activity is confined to emotion-related circuitry. Reward circuitry was equally represented in both groups. In the recovered acute/subacute back pain group, brain activity diminished in time, whereas in the persistent acute/subacute back pain group, activity diminished in acute pain regions, increased in emotion-related circuitry, and remained unchanged in reward circuitry. The results demonstrate that brain representation for a constant percept, back pain, can undergo large-scale shifts in brain activity with the transition to chronic pain. These observations challenge long-standing theoretical concepts regarding brain and mind relationships, as well as provide important novel insights regarding definitions and mechanisms of chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC3754458  PMID: 23983029
chronic back pain; fMRI; longitudinal; emotion; reward
11.  Subgroups of musculoskeletal pain patients and their psychobiological patterns – The LOGIN study protocol 
Pain conditions of the musculoskeletal system are very common and have tremendous socioeconomic impact. Despite its high prevalence, musculoskeletal pain remains poorly understood and predominantly non-specifically and insufficiently treated.
The group of chronic musculoskeletal pain patients is supposed to be heterogeneous, due to a multitude of mechanisms involved in chronic pain. Psychological variables, psychophysiological processes, and neuroendocrine alterations are expected to be involved. Thus far, studies on musculoskeletal pain have predominantly focused on the general aspects of pain processing, thus neglecting the heterogeneity of patients with musculoskeletal pain. Consequently, there is a need for studies that comprise a multitude of mechanisms that are potentially involved in the chronicity and spread of pain. This need might foster research and facilitate a better pathophysiological understanding of the condition, thereby promoting the development of specific mechanism-based treatments for chronic pain. Therefore, the objectives of this study are as follows: 1) identify and describe subgroups of patients with musculoskeletal pain with regard to clinical manifestations (including mental co-morbidity) and 2) investigate whether distinct sensory profiles or 3) distinct plasma levels of pain-related parameters due to different underlying mechanisms can be distinguished in various subgroups of pain patients.
We will examine a population-based chronic pain sample (n = 100), a clinical tertiary care sample (n = 100) and pain-free patients with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and pain-free healthy controls (each n = 30, respectively). The samples will be pain localisation matched by sex and age to the population-based sample. Patients will undergo physical examination and thorough assessments of mental co-morbidity (including psychological trauma), perceptual and central sensitisation (quantitative sensory testing), descending inhibition (conditioned pain modulation, the diffuse noxious inhibitory control-like effect), as well as measurement of the plasma levels of nerve growth factor and endocannabinoids.
The identification of the underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms in different subgroups of chronic musculoskeletal pain patients will contribute to a mechanism-based subgroup classification. This will foster the development of mechanism-based treatments and holds promise to treat patients more sufficient.
PMCID: PMC3476389  PMID: 22862787
Chronic non-specific musculoskeletal pain; Endocannabinoids; Mental comorbidity; Pain drawing; Pain extent; Quantitative sensory testing; Mechanism-based; Subgroup classification; Nerve growth factor; Trauma
12.  Biology and therapy of fibromyalgia: pain in fibromyalgia syndrome 
Fibromyalgia (FM) pain is frequent in the general population but its pathogenesis is only poorly understood. Many recent studies have emphasized the role of central nervous system pain processing abnormalities in FM, including central sensitization and inadequate pain inhibition. However, increasing evidence points towards peripheral tissues as relevant contributors of painful impulse input that might either initiate or maintain central sensitization, or both. It is well known that persistent or intense nociception can lead to neuroplastic changes in the spinal cord and brain, resulting in central sensitization and pain. This mechanism represents a hallmark of FM and many other chronic pain syndromes, including irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular disorder, migraine, and low back pain. Importantly, after central sensitization has been established only minimal nociceptive input is required for the maintenance of the chronic pain state. Additional factors, including pain related negative affect and poor sleep have been shown to significantly contribute to clinical FM pain. Better understanding of these mechanisms and their relationship to central sensitization and clinical pain will provide new approaches for the prevention and treatment of FM and other chronic pain syndromes.
PMCID: PMC1526632  PMID: 16684376
13.  Are cannabinoids an effective and safe treatment option in the management of pain? A qualitative systematic review 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2001;323(7303):13.
To establish whether cannabis is an effective and safe treatment option in the management of pain.
Systematic review of randomised controlled trials.
Data sources
Electronic databases Medline, Embase, Oxford Pain Database, and Cochrane Library; references from identified papers; hand searches.
Study selection
Trials of cannabis given by any route of administration (experimental intervention) with any analgesic or placebo (control intervention) in patients with acute, chronic non-malignant, or cancer pain. Outcomes examined were pain intensity scores, pain relief scores, and adverse effects. Validity of trials was assessed independently with the Oxford score.
Data extraction
Independent data extraction; discrepancies resolved by consensus.
Data synthesis
20 randomised controlled trials were identified, 11 of which were excluded. Of the 9 included trials (222 patients), 5 trials related to cancer pain, 2 to chronic non-malignant pain, and 2 to acute postoperative pain. No randomised controlled trials evaluated cannabis; all tested active substances were cannabinoids. Oral delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 5-20 mg, an oral synthetic nitrogen analogue of THC 1 mg, and intramuscular levonantradol 1.5-3 mg were about as effective as codeine 50-120 mg, and oral benzopyranoperidine 2-4 mg was less effective than codeine 60-120 mg and no better than placebo. Adverse effects, most often psychotropic, were common.
Cannabinoids are no more effective than codeine in controlling pain and have depressant effects on the central nervous system that limit their use. Their widespread introduction into clinical practice for pain management is therefore undesirable. In acute postoperative pain they should not be used. Before cannabinoids can be considered for treating spasticity and neuropathic pain, further valid randomised controlled studies are needed.
What is already known on this topicThree quarters of British doctors surveyed in 1994 wanted cannabis available on prescriptionHumans have cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systemIn animal testing cannabinoids are analgesic and reduce signs of neuropathic painSome evidence exists that cannabinoids may be analgesic in humansWhat this study addsNo studies have been conducted on smoked cannabisCannabinoids give about the same level of pain relief as codeine in acute postoperative painThey depress the central nervous system
PMCID: PMC34324  PMID: 11440935
14.  Neuroanatomy of lower gastrointestinal pain disorders 
Chronic abdominal pain accompanying intestinal inflammation emerges from the hyperresponsiveness of neuronal, immune and endocrine signaling pathways within the intestines, the peripheral and the central nervous system. In this article we review how the sensory nerve information from the healthy and the hypersensitive bowel is encoded and conveyed to the brain. The gut milieu is continuously monitored by intrinsic enteric afferents, and an extrinsic nervous network comprising vagal, pelvic and splanchnic afferents. The extrinsic afferents convey gut stimuli to second order neurons within the superficial spinal cord layers. These neurons cross the white commissure and ascend in the anterolateral quadrant and in the ipsilateral dorsal column of the dorsal horn to higher brain centers, mostly subserving regulatory functions. Within the supraspinal regions and the brainstem, pathways descend to modulate the sensory input. Because of this multiple level control, only a small proportion of gut signals actually reaches the level of consciousness to induce sensation or pain. In inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients, however, long-term neuroplastic changes have occurred in the brain-gut axis which results in chronic abdominal pain. This sensitization may be driven on the one hand by peripheral mechanisms within the intestinal wall which encompasses an interplay between immunocytes, enterochromaffin cells, resident macrophages, neurons and smooth muscles. On the other hand, neuronal synaptic changes along with increased neurotransmitter release in the spinal cord and brain leads to a state of central wind-up. Also life factors such as but not limited to inflammation and stress contribute to hypersensitivity. All together, the degree to which each of these mechanisms contribute to hypersensitivity in IBD and IBS might be disease- and even patient-dependent. Mapping of sensitization throughout animal and human studies may significantly improve our understanding of sensitization in IBD and IBS. On the long run, this knowledge can be put forward in potential therapeutic targets for abdominal pain in these conditions.
PMCID: PMC3921524  PMID: 24574773
Afferent nerves; Chronic pain; Inflammatory bowel disease; Irritable bowel syndrome; Sensitisation; Sensory nerves; Visceral hypersensitivity
15.  Spinal Cord Stimulation for Neuropathic Pain 
Executive Summary
The objective of this health technology policy assessment was to determine the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation (SCS) to manage chronic intractable neuropathic pain and to evaluate the adverse events and Ontario-specific economic profile of this technology.
Clinical Need
SCS is a reversible pain therapy that uses low-voltage electrical pulses to manage chronic, intractable neuropathic pain of the trunk or limbs. Neuropathic pain begins or is caused by damage or dysfunction to the nervous system and can be difficult to manage.
The prevalence of neuropathic pain has been estimated at about 1.5% of the population in the United States and 1% of the population in the United Kingdom. These prevalence rates are generalizable to Canada.
Neuropathic pain is extremely difficult to manage. People with symptoms that persist for at least 6 months or who have symptoms that last longer than expected for tissue healing or resolution of an underlying disease are considered to have chronic pain. Chronic pain is an emotional, social, and economic burden for those living with it. Depression, reduced quality of life (QOL), absenteeism from work, and a lower household income are positively correlated with chronic pain.
Although the actual number is unknown, a proportion of people with chronic neuropathic pain fail to obtain pain relief from pharmacological therapies despite adequate and reasonable efforts to use them. These people are said to have intractable neuropathic pain, and they are the target population for SCS.
The most common indication for SCS in North America is chronic intractable neuropathic pain due to failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), a term that describes persistent leg or back and leg pain in patients who have had back or spine surgery. Neuropathic pain due to complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which can develop in the distal aspect of a limb a minor injury, is another common indication. To a lesser extent, chronic intractable pain of postherpetic neuralgia, which is a persistent burning pain and hyperesthesia along the distribution of a cutaneous nerve after an attack of herpes zoster, is also managed with SCS.
For each condition, SCS is considered as a pain management therapy only after conventional pain therapies, including pharmacological, nonpharmacological, and surgical treatments, if applicable, have been attempted and have failed.
The Technology
The SCS technology consists of 3 implantable components: a pulse generator, an extension cable, and a lead (a small wire). The pulse generator is the power source for the spinal cord stimulator. It generates low-voltage electrical pulses. The extension cable connects the pulse generator to the lead. The lead is a small, insulated wire that has a set of electrodes at one end. The lead is placed into the epidural space on the posterior aspect of the spinal cord, and the electrodes are positioned at the level of the nerve roots innervating the painful area. An electrical current from the electrodes induces a paresthesia, or a tingling sensation that masks the pain.
Before SCS is initiated, candidates must have psychological testing to rule out major psychological illness, drug habituation, and issues of secondary gain that can negatively influence the success of the therapy. Successful candidates will have a SCS test stimulation period (trial period) to assess their responsiveness to SCS. The test stimulation takes about 1 week to complete, and candidates who obtain at least 50% pain relief during this period are deemed suitable to receive a permanent implantation of a spinal cord stimulator
Review Strategy
The Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS) reviewed all published health technology assessments of spinal cord stimulation. Following this, a literature search was conducted from 2000 to January, 2005 and a systematic review of the literature was completed. The primary outcome for the systematic review was pain relief. Secondary outcomes included functional status and quality of life. After applying the predetermined inclusion and exclusion criteria, 2 randomized controlled trials (MAS level 2 evidence), and 2 prospective non-randomized controlled trials with a before-and-after-treatment study design (MAS level 3a evidence) were retrieved and reviewed.
Summary of Findings
The authors of 6 health technology assessments concluded that evidence exists to support the effectiveness of SCS to decrease pain in various neuropathic pain syndromes. However, the quality of this evidence varied among reports from weak to moderate.
The systematic review completed by MAS found high quality level 2 evidence that SCS decreases pain and level 3a evidence that it improves functional status and quality of life in some people with neuropathic pain conditions. The rate of technical failures was approximately 11%, which included electrode lead migration and/or malposition. Procedural complications included infection and dural puncture; each occurred at a rate of 1.2%.
SCS may be considered for patients with chronic, neuropathic pain for whom standard pain treatments have failed and when there is no indication for surgical intervention to treat the underlying condition.
PMCID: PMC3382299  PMID: 23074473
16.  Pain and Inflammatory Bowel Disease 
Inflammatory bowel diseases  2009;15(5):778-788.
Abdominal pain is a common symptom of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis). Pain may arise from different mechanisms, which can include partial blockage and gut distention as well as severe intestinal inflammation. A majority of patients suffering from acute flares of IBD will experience pain, which will typically improve as disease activity decreases. However, a significant percentage of IBD patients continue experiencing symptoms of pain despite resolving inflammation and achieving what appears to be clinical remission. Current evidence suggests that sensory pathways sensitize during inflammation, leading to persistent changes in afferent neurons and central nervous system pain processing. Such persistent pain is not only a simple result of sensory input. Pain processing and even the activation of sensory pathways is modulated by arousal, emotion, and cognitive factors. Considering the high prevalence of iatrogenic as well as essential neuropsychiatric comorbidities including anxiety and depression in IBD patients, these central modulating factors may significantly contribute to the clinical manifestation of chronic pain. The improved understanding of peripheral and central pain mechanisms is leading to new treatment strategies that view pain as a biopsychosocial problem. Thus, improving the underlying inflammation, decreasing the excitability of sensitized afferent pathways, and altering emotional and/or cognitive functions may be required to more effectively address the difficult and disabling disease manifestations.
PMCID: PMC3180862  PMID: 19130619
sensitization; hyperalgesia; inflammatory bowel disease
17.  Fractalkine/CX3CR1 signaling during neuropathic pain 
Chronic pain represents a major problem in clinical medicine. Whilst the acute pain that is associated with tissue injury is a protective signal that serves to maintain homeostasis, chronic pain is a debilitating condition that persists long after the inciting stimulus subsides. Chronic neuropathic pain that develops following damage or disease of the nervous system is partially treated by current therapies, leaving scope for new therapies to improve treatment outcome. Peripheral nerve damage is associated with alterations to the sensory neuroaxis that promote maladaptive augmentation of nociceptive transmission. Thus, neuropathic pain patients exhibit exaggerated responses to noxious stimuli, as well as pain caused by stimuli which are normally non-painful. Increased nociceptive input from the periphery triggers physiological plasticity and long lasting transcriptional and post-translational changes in the CNS defined as central sensitization. Nerve injury induces gliosis which contributes to central sensitization and results in enhanced communication between neurons and microglial cells within the dorsal horn. Thus, identification of mechanisms regulating neuro-immune interactions that occur during neuropathic pain may provide future therapeutic targets. Specifically, chemokines and their receptors play a pivotal role in mediating neuro-immune communication which leads to increased nociception. In particular, the chemokine Fractalkine (FKN) and the CX3CR1 receptor have come to light as a key signaling pair during neuropathic pain states.
PMCID: PMC4019858  PMID: 24847207
microglia; proteases; pain; chronic pain; chemokines
18.  Circulating Mitochondrial DNA in Patients in the ICU as a Marker of Mortality: Derivation and Validation 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001577.
In this paper, Choi and colleagues analyzed levels of mitochondrial DNA in two prospective observational cohort studies and found that increased mtDNA levels are associated with ICU mortality, and improve risk prediction in medical ICU patients. The data suggests that mtDNA could serve as a viable plasma biomarker in MICU patients.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a critical activator of inflammation and the innate immune system. However, mtDNA level has not been tested for its role as a biomarker in the intensive care unit (ICU). We hypothesized that circulating cell-free mtDNA levels would be associated with mortality and improve risk prediction in ICU patients.
Methods and Findings
Analyses of mtDNA levels were performed on blood samples obtained from two prospective observational cohort studies of ICU patients (the Brigham and Women's Hospital Registry of Critical Illness [BWH RoCI, n = 200] and Molecular Epidemiology of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome [ME ARDS, n = 243]). mtDNA levels in plasma were assessed by measuring the copy number of the NADH dehydrogenase 1 gene using quantitative real-time PCR. Medical ICU patients with an elevated mtDNA level (≥3,200 copies/µl plasma) had increased odds of dying within 28 d of ICU admission in both the BWH RoCI (odds ratio [OR] 7.5, 95% CI 3.6–15.8, p = 1×10−7) and ME ARDS (OR 8.4, 95% CI 2.9–24.2, p = 9×10−5) cohorts, while no evidence for association was noted in non-medical ICU patients. The addition of an elevated mtDNA level improved the net reclassification index (NRI) of 28-d mortality among medical ICU patients when added to clinical models in both the BWH RoCI (NRI 79%, standard error 14%, p<1×10−4) and ME ARDS (NRI 55%, standard error 20%, p = 0.007) cohorts. In the BWH RoCI cohort, those with an elevated mtDNA level had an increased risk of death, even in analyses limited to patients with sepsis or acute respiratory distress syndrome. Study limitations include the lack of data elucidating the concise pathological roles of mtDNA in the patients, and the limited numbers of measurements for some of biomarkers.
Increased mtDNA levels are associated with ICU mortality, and inclusion of mtDNA level improves risk prediction in medical ICU patients. Our data suggest that mtDNA could serve as a viable plasma biomarker in medical ICU patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Intensive care units (ICUs, also known as critical care units) are specialist hospital wards that provide care for people with life-threatening injuries and illnesses. In the US alone, more than 5 million people are admitted to ICUs every year. Different types of ICUs treat different types of problems. Medical ICUs treat patients who, for example, have been poisoned or who have a serious infection such as sepsis (blood poisoning) or severe pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs); trauma ICUs treat patients who have sustained a major injury; cardiac ICUs treat patients who have heart problems; and surgical ICUs treat complications arising from operations. Patients admitted to ICUs require constant medical attention and support from a team of specially trained nurses and physicians to prevent organ injury and to keep their bodies functioning. Monitors, intravenous tubes (to supply essential fluids, nutrients, and drugs), breathing machines, catheters (to drain urine), and other equipment also help to keep ICU patients alive.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although many patients admitted to ICUs recover, others do not. ICU specialists use scoring systems (algorithms) based on clinical signs and physiological measurements to predict their patients' likely outcomes. For example, the APACHE II scoring system uses information on heart and breathing rates, temperature, levels of salts in the blood, and other signs and physiological measurements collected during the first 24 hours in the ICU to predict the patient's risk of death. Existing scoring systems are not perfect, however, and “biomarkers” (molecules in bodily fluids that provide information about a disease state) are needed to improve risk prediction for ICU patients. Here, the researchers investigate whether levels of circulating cell-free mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are associated with ICU deaths and whether these levels can be used as a biomarker to improve risk prediction in ICU patients. Mitochondria are cellular structures that produce energy. Levels of mtDNA in the plasma (the liquid part of blood) increase in response to trauma and infection. Moreover, mtDNA activates molecular processes that lead to inflammation and organ injury.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured mtDNA levels in the plasma of patients enrolled in two prospective observational cohort studies that monitored the outcomes of ICU patients. In the Brigham and Women's Hospital Registry of Critical Illness study, blood was taken from 200 patients within 24 hours of admission into the hospital's medical ICU. In the Molecular Epidemiology of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome study (acute respiratory distress syndrome is a life-threatening inflammatory reaction to lung damage or infection), blood was taken from 243 patients within 48 hours of admission into medical and non-medical ICUs at two other US hospitals. Patients admitted to medical ICUs with a raised mtDNA level (3,200 or more copies of a specific mitochondrial gene per microliter of plasma) had a 7- to 8-fold increased risk of dying within 28 days of admission compared to patients with mtDNA levels of less than 3,200 copies/µl plasma. There was no evidence of an association between raised mtDNA levels and death among patients admitted to non-medical ICUs. The addition of an elevated mtDNA level to a clinical model for risk prediction that included the APACHE II score and biomarkers that are already used to predict ICU outcomes improved the net reclassification index (an indicator of the improvement in risk prediction algorithms offered by new biomarkers) of 28-day mortality among medical ICU patients in both studies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that raised mtDNA plasma levels are associated with death in medical ICUs and show that, among patients in medical ICUs, measurement of mtDNA plasma levels can improve the prediction of the risk of death from the APACHE II scoring system, even when commonly measured biomarkers are taken into account. These findings do not indicate whether circulating cell-free mtDNA increased because of the underlying severity of illness or whether mtDNA actively contributes to the disease process in medical ICU patients. Moreover, they do not provide any evidence that raised mtDNA levels are associated with an increased risk of death among non-medical (mainly surgical) ICU patients. These findings need to be confirmed in additional patients, but given the relative ease and rapidity of mtDNA measurement, the determination of circulating cell-free mtDNA levels could be a valuable addition to the assessment of patients admitted to medical ICUs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about intensive care
The Society of Critical Care Medicine provides information for professionals, families, and patients about all aspects of intensive care
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about intensive care (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity ICUsteps supports patients and their families through recovery from critical illness; its booklet Intensive Care: A Guide for Patients and Families is available in English and ten other languages; its website includes patient experiences and relative experiences of treatment in ICUs
Wikipedia has a page on ICU scoring systems (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC3876981  PMID: 24391478
19.  Neurological diseases and pain 
Brain  2011;135(2):320-344.
Chronic pain is a frequent component of many neurological disorders, affecting 20–40% of patients for many primary neurological diseases. These diseases result from a wide range of pathophysiologies including traumatic injury to the central nervous system, neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation, and exploring the aetiology of pain in these disorders is an opportunity to achieve new insight into pain processing. Whether pain originates in the central or peripheral nervous system, it frequently becomes centralized through maladaptive responses within the central nervous system that can profoundly alter brain systems and thereby behaviour (e.g. depression). Chronic pain should thus be considered a brain disease in which alterations in neural networks affect multiple aspects of brain function, structure and chemistry. The study and treatment of this disease is greatly complicated by the lack of objective measures for either the symptoms or the underlying mechanisms of chronic pain. In pain associated with neurological disease, it is sometimes difficult to obtain even a subjective evaluation of pain, as is the case for patients in a vegetative state or end-stage Alzheimer's disease. It is critical that neurologists become more involved in chronic pain treatment and research (already significant in the fields of migraine and peripheral neuropathies). To achieve this goal, greater efforts are needed to enhance training for neurologists in pain treatment and promote greater interest in the field. This review describes examples of pain in different neurological diseases including primary neurological pain conditions, discusses the therapeutic potential of brain-targeted therapies and highlights the need for objective measures of pain.
PMCID: PMC3281476  PMID: 22067541
brain imaging; Parkinson's disease; complex regional pain syndrome; migraine; brain trauma
20.  Abnormal endogenous pain modulation is a shared characteristic of many chronic pain conditions 
The intensity of acute and chronic pain depends on interactions between peripheral impulse input and CNS pain mechanisms, including facilitation and inhibition. Whereas tonic pain inhibition is a characteristic of most pain-free individuals, pain facilitation can be detected in many chronic pain patients. The capability to inhibit pain is normally distributed along a wide continuum in the general population and can be used to predict chronic pain. Accumulating evidence suggests that endogenous pain inhibition depends on activation of the prefrontal cortex, periaqueductal gray and rostral ventral medulla. Quantitative sensory test paradigms have been designed to acquire detailed information regarding each individual’s endogenous pain inhibition and facilitation. Such tests include: temporal summation of pain, which is mostly used to assess facilitatory pain modulation by measuring the change in pain perception during a series of identical nociceptive stimuli; and conditioned pain modulation, which tests pain inhibition by utilizing two simultaneously applied painful stimuli (the ‘pain inhibits pain’ paradigm). Considerable indirect evidence seems to indicate that not only increased pain facilitation but also ineffective pain inhibition represents a predisposition for chronic pain. This view is supported by the fact that many chronic pain syndromes (e.g., fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, headache and chronic fatigue syndrome) are associated with hypersensitivity to painful stimuli and reduced endogenous pain inhibition. However, future prospective studies will be necessary to provide definitive evidence for this relationship. Such research would not only provide important information about mechanisms relevant to chronic pain but would also permit identification of individuals at high risk for future chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC3373184  PMID: 22550986
central sensitization; chronic pain; facilitation; fibromyalgia; inhibition; osteoarthritis; pain modulation
21.  Glia and pain: Is chronic pain a gliopathy? 
Pain  2013;154(0 1):S10-S28.
Activation of glial cells and neuro-glial interactions are emerging as key mechanisms underlying chronic pain. Accumulating evidence has implicated 3 types of glial cells in the development and maintenance of chronic pain: microglia and astrocytes of the central nervous system (CNS), and satellite glial cells of the dorsal root and trigeminal ganglia. Painful syndromes are associated with different glial activation states: (1) glial reaction (ie, upregulation of glial markers such as IBA1 and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and/or morphological changes, including hypertrophy, proliferation, and modifications of glial networks); (2) phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathways; (3) upregulation of adenosine triphosphate and chemokine receptors and hemichannels and downregulation of glutamate transporters; and (4) synthesis and release of glial mediators (eg, cytokines, chemokines, growth factors, and proteases) to the extracellular space. Although widely detected in chronic pain resulting from nerve trauma, inflammation, cancer, and chemotherapy in rodents, and more recently, human immunodeficiency virus-associated neuropathy in human beings, glial reaction (activation state 1) is not thought to mediate pain sensitivity directly. Instead, activation states 2 to 4 have been demonstrated to enhance pain sensitivity via a number of synergistic neuro-glial interactions. Glial mediators have been shown to powerfully modulate excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission at presynaptic, postsynaptic, and extrasynaptic sites. Glial activation also occurs in acute pain conditions, and acute opioid treatment activates peripheral glia to mask opioid analgesia. Thus, chronic pain could be a result of “gliopathy,” that is, dysregulation of glial functions in the central and peripheral nervous system. In this review, we provide an update on recent advances and discuss remaining questions.
PMCID: PMC3858488  PMID: 23792284
Astrocytes; ATP receptors; Chemokines; Cytokines; Human; Microglia; Rodents; Satellite glial cells; Spinal cord
22.  Altered functional connectivity between the insula and the cingulate cortex in patients with TMD – a pilot study 
Headache  2011;52(3):441-454.
Amongst the most common chronic pain conditions, yet poorly understood, are temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), with a prevalence estimate of 3 – 15% for Western populations. Although it is increasingly acknowledged that central nervous system mechanisms contribute to pain amplification and chronicity in TMDs, further research is needed to unravel neural correlates that might abet the development of chronic pain.
The insular cortex (IC) and cingulate cortex (CC) are both critically involved in the experience of pain. The current study sought specifically to investigate IC-CC functional connectivity in TMD patients and healthy controls (HCs), both during resting state and during the application of a painful stimulus.
Eight patients with TMD, and 8 age and sex matched healthy controls (HCs) were enrolled in the present study. FMRI data during resting state and during the performance of a pressure pain stimulus to the temple were acquired. Predefined seed regions were placed in the IC (anterior and posterior insular cortices) and the extracted signal was correlated with brain activity throughout the whole brain. Specifically we were interested whether TMD patients and HCs would show differences in IC – CC connectivity, both during resting state and during the application of a painful stimulus to the face.
As a main finding functional connectivity analyses revealed an increased functional connectivity between the left anterior IC and pregenual ACC in TMD patients, during both resting state and applied pressure pain. Within the patient group there was a negative correlation between the anterior IC - ACC connectivity and clinical pain intensity as measured by a VAS.
Since the pregenual region of the ACC is critically involved in antinociception, we hypothesize that an increase in anterior IC – ACC connectivity is indicative of an adaptation of the pain modulatory system early in the chronification process.
PMCID: PMC3256286  PMID: 21929661
chronic pain; temporomandibular disorder; functional connectivity; insular cortex; cingulate cortex
23.  Differential regulation of immune responses and macrophage/neuron interactions in the dorsal root ganglion in young and adult rats following nerve injury 
Molecular Pain  2009;5:70.
Neuropathic pain is an apparently spontaneous experience triggered by abnormal physiology of the peripheral or central nervous system, which evolves with time. Neuropathic pain arising from peripheral nerve injury is characterized by a combination of spontaneous pain, hyperalgesia and allodynia. There is no evidence of this type of pain in human infants or rat pups; brachial plexus avulsion, which causes intense neuropathic pain in adults, is not painful when the injury is sustained at birth. Since infants are capable of nociception from before birth and display both acute and chronic inflammatory pain behaviour from an early neonatal age, it appears that the mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain are differentially regulated over a prolonged postnatal period.
We have performed a microarray analysis of the rat L4/L5 dorsal root ganglia (DRG), 7 days post spared nerve injury, a model of neuropathic pain. Genes that are regulated in adult rats displaying neuropathic behaviour were compared to those regulated in young rats (10 days old) that did not show the same neuropathic behaviour. The results show a set of genes, differentially regulated in the adult DRG, that are principally involved in immune system modulation. A functional consequence of this different immune response to injury is that resident macrophages cluster around the large A sensory neuron bodies in the adult DRG seven days post injury, whereas the macrophages in young DRG remain scattered evenly throughout the ganglion, as in controls.
The results show, for the first time, a major difference in the neuroimmune response to nerve injury in the dorsal root ganglion of young and adult rats. Differential analysis reveals a new set of immune related genes in the ganglia, that are differentially regulated in adult neuropathic pain, and that are consistent with the selective activation of macrophages around adult, but not young large A sensory neurons post injury. These differences may contribute to the reduced incidence of neuropathic pain in infants.
PMCID: PMC2799401  PMID: 20003309
24.  Common mechanisms of pain and depression: are antidepressants also analgesics? 
Neither pain, nor depression exist as independent phenomena per se, they are highly subjective inner states, formed by our brain and built on the bases of our experiences, cognition and emotions. Chronic pain is associated with changes in brain physiology and anatomy. It has been suggested that the neuronal activity underlying subjective perception of chronic pain may be divergent from the activity associated with acute pain. We will discuss the possible common pathophysiological mechanism of chronic pain and depression with respect to the default mode network of the brain, neuroplasticity and the effect of antidepressants on these two pathological conditions. The default mode network of the brain has an important role in the representation of introspective mental activities and therefore can be considered as a nodal point, common for both chronic pain and depression. Neuroplasticity which involves molecular, cellular and synaptic processes modifying connectivity between neurons and neuronal circuits can also be affected by pathological states such as chronic pain or depression. We suppose that pathogenesis of depression and chronic pain shares common negative neuroplastic changes in the central nervous system (CNS). The positive impact of antidepressants would result in a reduction of these pathological cellular/molecular processes and in the amelioration of symptoms, but it may also increase survival times and quality of life of patients with chronic cancer pain.
PMCID: PMC3971163  PMID: 24723864
chronic pain; depression; antidepressants; default mode network; neuroplasticity; stress; cytokines
25.  In pursuit of P2X3 antagonists: novel therapeutics for chronic pain and afferent sensitization 
Purinergic Signalling  2011;8(Suppl 1):3-26.
Treating pain by inhibiting ATP activation of P2X3-containing receptors heralds an exciting new approach to pain management, and Afferent's program marks the vanguard in a new class of drugs poised to explore this approach to meet the significant unmet needs in pain management. P2X3 receptor subunits are expressed predominately and selectively in so-called C- and Aδ-fiber primary afferent neurons in most tissues and organ systems, including skin, joints, and hollow organs, suggesting a high degree of specificity to the pain sensing system in the human body. P2X3 antagonists block the activation of these fibers by ATP and stand to offer an alternative approach to the management of pain and discomfort. In addition, P2X3 is expressed pre-synaptically at central terminals of C-fiber afferent neurons, where ATP further sensitizes transmission of painful signals. As a result of the selectivity of the expression of P2X3, there is a lower likelihood of adverse effects in the brain, gastrointestinal, or cardiovascular tissues, effects which remain limiting factors for many existing pain therapeutics. In the periphery, ATP (the factor that triggers P2X3 receptor activation) can be released from various cells as a result of tissue inflammation, injury or stress, as well as visceral organ distension, and stimulate these local nociceptors. The P2X3 receptor rationale has aroused a formidable level of investigation producing many reports that clarify the potential role of ATP as a pain mediator, in chronic sensitized states in particular, and has piqued the interest of pharmaceutical companies. P2X receptor-mediated afferent activation has been implicated in inflammatory, visceral, and neuropathic pain states, as well as in airways hyperreactivity, migraine, itch, and cancer pain. It is well appreciated that oftentimes new mechanisms translate poorly from models into clinical efficacy and effectiveness; however, the breadth of activity seen from P2X3 inhibition in models offers a realistic chance that this novel mechanism to inhibit afferent nerve sensitization may find its place in the sun and bring some merciful relief to the torment of persistent discomfort and pain. The development philosophy at Afferent is to conduct proof of concept patient studies and best identify target patient groups that may benefit from this new intervention.
PMCID: PMC3265711  PMID: 22095157
P2X3 receptor; P2X2/3 receptor; P2X3 antagonist; Anti-hyperalgesic; Analgesic; Joint pain; Visceral pain; Neuropathic pain

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