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Altered pain processing after opioid discontinuation

Imaging study reveals effects of remifentanil discontinuation on pain processing in healthy men

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: The figure depicts BOLD responses to the non-painful (not shown) and painful phase of ascending thermal stimulation during the baseline session across all participants. view more 

Credit: Sprenger et al., JNeurosci (2018)

An imaging study of the brain and spinal cord published in JNeurosci reveals pain processing changes in healthy men after receiving a short-term application of a strong opioid. The research provides a plausible mechanism underlying increased pain sensitivity after discontinuation of opioid medication.

Opioids are known to inhibit pain, but it is increasingly recognized that they can also increase sensitivity to pain in certain situations. Dr. Sprenger and colleagues investigated changes in the brain and the spinal cord after application of the potent opioid remifentanil corresponding to increased sensitivity to heat pain stimuli applied to the forearm of healthy male adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging found altered signaling in a network that connects frontal brain regions via the brainstem with the spinal cord that has a crucial role in regulating pain. Since remifentanil has a very short half-life and was mostly cleared from the blood when the changes occurred, these results cannot be attributed to direct effects of the drug. Instead, they indicate altered pain processing in the central nervous system subsequent to opioid application.

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Article: Altered signaling in the descending pain modulatory system after short-term infusion of the μ-opioid agonist remifentanil

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2496-17.2018

Corresponding author: Christian Sprenger (University-Medical-Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany), c.sprenger@uke.de or cs910@cam.ac.uk

Phone: +49-(0)40-7410-27302

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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