Brain Imaging Technique Can be Used to Observe Chronic Pain Drugs


Researchers from the University of Michigan have experimented with the brain imaging technique to track the action of drugs for chronic pain treatments. The new study has been published recently in the Anesthesiology journal. The team used three different brain methods and they were able to observe how pregabalin works on patients. The drug is typically used to treat people with neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia. Researchers believe that the new technique could be useful to define approaches for targeted treatment on patients suffering from chronic pain.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder, in which pain is improperly processed by the central nervous symptoms. Patients typically feel numbness or tingling in the feet and hands, irritable bowel syndrome, morning stiffness, headaches and even cognitive problems. To reach the results, the team observed how pregabalin works in a group of 17 patients.

At the moment, it’s believed that ten million patients in the United States are affected by fibromyalgia. Based on earlier researches, people suffering from fibromyalgia may have higher neural activity in their insula – a part of the brain typically associated with the processing of emotion and pain. Increased active of the insula may be linked to heightened levels of glutamate, an important stimulative neurotransmitter.

Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the team discovered that pregabalin or known commercially as Lyrica, could reduce the concentration of glutamate in the insula and this seems to be consistent with observation on animals. In addition, it was discovered that the lower concentration of glutamate could reduce the insula connectivity and rating of clinical pain among patients. This corroborates with previous findings in patients treated successfully by non-pharmocological therapies and baseline fibromyalgia patients. Experts say that the finding could be significant because it shows that pharmacological treatment on people with chronic pain can be observed with brain imaging techniques.

The result may point to favorable condition where targeted brain imaging methods are used more frequently during pharmacological treatments for chronic widespread pain, instead of the less reliable trial-and-error techniques. However, researchers note that additional study is required to determine whether the finding can applied effectively to other pain disorders and syndromes associated with heightened level of glutamate in the brain, such as fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. There’s also a possibility that the same technique can be applied to other disorders related to the brain activity.