Navigation Links
For First Time, Pain 'Signature' Spotted on Brain MRIs

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time, scientists say they've found evidence that physical pain may leave a distinct "signature" in the brain that can be picked up with specialized MRI scans.

The study looked only at short-term pain in healthy people, but researchers hope the findings will lead to better understanding of complex conditions such as chronic severe headaches or fibromyalgia.

When researchers exposed healthy volunteers to a painful dose of heat, it left a reliable pattern of brain activity that could be viewed on functional MRI (fMRI) -- a type of imaging that charts changes in blood flow through the brain.

That so-called "neurologic signature" was able to predict people's subjective pain ratings with more than 90 percent accuracy, and it distinguished heat-induced pain from other feelings -- like warmth, and even emotional pain.

Experts said the findings, reported in the April 11 New England Journal of Medicine, hint at a way to objectively measure people's pain. Right now, that's done subjectively -- often, by having patients rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

But the point is not to catch patients in a lie, stressed lead researcher Tor Wager, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"This is not a pain lie-detector test, and it should not be used that way," Wager said. "People in pain need to be believed."

A pain expert not involved in the study agreed, but said objective measures might be useful in getting more information. "There are times when a patient isn't able to communicate about pain effectively -- for example, after a stroke," said Dr. Jing Wang, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.

In other cases, patients' descriptions of their pain might not be completely reliable, such as when they have a mental illness. Both Wang and Wager said it would be helpful to have a way to complement patients' pain reports with an objective measure -- which in many cases might suggest that patients are in more pain than they are letting on, or in more pain than a doctor believes.

"We know that right now many people have their pain undertreated," Wager noted.

But scientists are a long way from using fMRI scans to gauge pain, according to Wang at NYU. "This is a comprehensive, meticulous study," he said, but added that it's also an early step.

One big caveat is that the study volunteers were all healthy and exposed to just one type of pain -- short-lived pain from heat applied to the skin. Wang said researchers need to see whether this same brain "signature" would appear in people with chronic pain conditions, or pain after surgery, for example.

And since fMRI scans are expensive, Wang noted, studies would have to show that the imaging actually benefits patients before it would be routinely used in the real world.

The study involved a total of 114 healthy young adults who took part in different phases of the research. First, Wager's team found that fMRI scans were able to pick up a reliable pain signature in the brain when volunteers had painful heat applied to their forearms.

The researchers then found that the signature was different and stronger than brain activity that popped up in response to the sensation of warmth, or to anticipation or remembrance of the pain.

More interesting, Wager said, was that the signature seemed to be unique to physical pain. In one set of experiments, the researchers had heartbroken volunteers who'd recently gone through a breakup look at a photo of their ex-partner. That did trigger activity in brain regions related to physical pain, but the signature linked to heat-induced pain remained distinct.

Wager agreed that much more work needs to be done, and his team is already looking at whether the neurologic signature holds up in other types of pain.

For his part, Wang pointed out that pain comes in many different forms, with causes ranging from inflammation to nerve damage. And chronic pain, in particular, is very complex, study author Wager noted.

Whether fMRI is ever used to diagnose pain, studies like this could help researchers gain a better understanding of the "biology of pain," Wang said. "Our understanding of pain is still fairly rudimentary."

A better understanding of pain, Wager said, will hopefully lead to better ways to manage it.

More information

Learn more about managing chronic pain from the American Chronic Pain Association.

SOURCES: Tor Wager, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder; Jing Wang, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, anesthesiology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; April 11, 2013, New England Journal of Medicine

Copyright©2012 ScoutNews,LLC.
All rights reserved  

Related medicine news :

1. T cell biology pioneer Allison wins first AACR honor for cancer immunology
2. Baptist Health South: First US Hospital Network to Receive Full Accreditation from ACE
3. ASH awards first Bridge Grants to sustain critical hematology research
4. First Vaginal Mesh Lawsuit Trials in Federal C.R. Bard Avaulta Mesh Litigation To Begin, Reports Wright & Schulte LLC
5. CHOP oncologist leads first SU2C pediatric dream team
6. Medistra Hospital, Jakarta Becomes First Hospital in Indonesia with Centralized Image Archive
7. Stryker Hip Replacement Lawsuit News: Mass. Woman Files First Known Federal Stryker ABG II Hip Lawsuit, Rottenstein Law Group Reports
8. For the first time, researchers isolate adult stem cells from human intestinal tissue
9. Phase 1 ALS trial is first to test antisense treatment of neurodegenerative disease
10. The American Healthcare Documentation Professionals Group Launches Industry's First Complimentary Online HIPAA Training and Certification Program
11. Jessilyn Park Prepares For Her First Solo Art Show - "Illumination"
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
For First Time, Pain 'Signature' Spotted on Brain MRIs
(Date:6/26/2016)... ... June 26, 2016 , ... ... they have been diagnosed with endometriosis. These women need a treatment plan to ... a comprehensive approach that can help for preservation of fertility and ultimately achieving ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... June 25, 2016 , ... First Choice Emergency ... named Dr. Sesan Ogunleye, as the Medical Director of its new Mesquite-Samuell Farm facility. ... Director of our new Mesquite location,” said Dr. James M. Muzzarelli, Executive Medical Director ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... A recent article ... are unfamiliar with. The article goes on to state that individuals are now more ... these less common operations such as calf and cheek reduction. The Los Angeles area ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... ... Global law firm Greenberg Traurig, P.A. announced that 20 Florida attorneys are ... for this recognition are considered among the top 2 percent of lawyers practicing within ... of this year’s Legal Elite Hall of Fame: Miami Shareholders Mark D. Bloom, ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... ... the Clinical Decision Making in Emergency Medicine conference in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. ... articles published in Emergency Medicine Practice and Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice. ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... 2016 Dublin ... addition of the " Global Markets for Spectroscopy ... This report focuses on the ... review, including its applications in various applications. The report ... includes three main industries: pharmaceutical and biotechnology, food and ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... Mass. and SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. , ... California -based mobile pulmonary function testing company, is now able ... PFT devices developed by ndd Medical Technologies , Inc. ... testing done in hospital-based labs.  Thanks to ndd,s EasyOne PRO ® ... , can get any needed testing done in the comfort ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , Belgium , June 24, ... VNRX), today announced the appointment of Dr. ... Directors as a Non-Executive Director, effective June 23, ... Audit, Compensation and Nominations and Governance Committees.  As ... Futcher will provide independent expertise and strategic counsel ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: