Unravelling the mystery of pain, suffering, and relief with brain imaging.
Lee MC., Tracey I.
In humans, the experience of pain and suffering is conveyed specifically by language. Noninvasive neuroimaging techniques now provide an account of neural activity in the human brain when pain is experienced. Knowledge gleaned from neuroimaging experiments has shaped contemporaneous accounts of pain. Within the biopsychosocial framework, nociception is undoubtedly required for survival, but is neither necessary nor sufficient for the consciousness of pain in humans. Pain emerges from the brain, which also exerts a top-down influence on nociception. In the brains of patients with chronic pain, neuroimaging has revealed subtle but significant structural, functional, and neurochemical abnormalities. Converging evidence suggests that the chronic pain state may arise from dysfunction of the frontal-limbic system. Further research in the clinical pain population will continue to identify neural mechanisms that contribute to the experience and consequence of pain, which may then be targeted therapeutically.