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Predicting who will have chronic pain
Date:9/17/2013

al fellow in Apkarian's lab.

Apkarian's research focuses on the relationship between chronic pain and the brain. One of his previous studies showed chronic pain patients lose gray matter volume over time.

Chronic pain is one of the most expensive health care conditions in the U.S. and takes an enormous toll on quality of life, yet there still is not a scientifically validated therapy for the condition. Lower back pain represents 28 percent of all causes of pain in the U.S.; about 23 percent of these patients suffer long-term pain.

The abnormalities identified in the study were found in multiple white matter axon bundles, some surrounding the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex, two brain regions involved in processing emotion and pain. Last year, the Apkarian group showed that the physiological properties of these two regions identify which patients will persist with back pain. The new results identify a pre-existing culprit for these physiological responses to the injury.

"The brain abnormalities exist in the general population, but only those people with a back injury go on to develop the chronic pain," Apkarian said.

For the study, Apkarian and his colleagues scanned the brains of 46 people who had an episode of lower back pain for at least four weeks and had not experienced any pain for at least one year before that. Their pain had to be rated at least five out of 10 on a pain scale for them to be included in the study.

Scientists followed the patients for a year, scanning their brains at the onset of study and one year later. After a year about half of them had improved, regardless of whether they took anything to treat the pain, and half of them continued to have pain. Those with the persistent pain had the same structural abnormalities in their white matter at the onset of the injury and after one year.

"The abnormality makes them vulnerable and predisposes them to enhanced emotio
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Contact: Marla Paul
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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