Functional MRI showing brain activity during perception of pain.
© SFB Treatment Expectation

Functional MRI showing brain activity during perception of pain.
© SFB Treatment Expectation

How do anxiety and expectation control pain?

Thoughts, experiences and expectations can increase or decrease the sensation of pain. What are the psychological and neural mechanisms that underlie this effect, and what role is played by the neurotransmitter dopamine and anxiety? To find out, our researchers use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to visualise brain activity.

Research summary

The role of dopamine and anxiety in treatment expectations and their effect on pain

In two closely linked fMRI studies, this project investigates the common and distinct neural (and neurochemical) mechanisms underlying the effect of positive and negative treatment expectations on pain. Study 1 considers the dopaminergic mesolimbic reward system (pharmacological modulation with sulpiride), while study 2 examines the high clinical significance of anxiety (pharmacological modulation with midazolam). Both explore the effect of these pharmacological modulations on the development, strength and duration of the expectation effect on experimental pain in healthy participants.

Recommended reading:

Bingel U, Wanigasekera V, Wiech K, Mhuircheartaigh R, Lee MC, Ploner M, Tracey I (2011) The effect of treatment expectation on drug efficacy: imaging the analgesic benefit of the opioid remifentanil. Science Transl Med 70. 70ra14. PubMed

Wrobel N, Wiech K, Forkmann K, Ritter C, Bingel U (2014) Haloperidol blocks dorsal striatum activity but not analgesia in a placebo paradigm. Cortex 57: 60-73. PubMed

Zunhammer M, Ploner M, Engelbrecht C, Bock J, Kessner SS, Bingel U (2017) The effects of treatment failure generalize across different routes of drug administration. Sci Transl Med 9(393) pii: eaal2999. PubMed

Zunhammer M, Bingel U, Wager TD; Placebo Imaging Consortium (2018) Placebo effects on the neurologic pain signature: A meta-analysis of individual participant functional magnetic resonance imaging data. JAMA Neurol 75(11):1321-1330. PubMed

In close cooperation with these projects

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A02

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A04

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How do positive expectations improve mood?

Prof. Dr. Erik M. Müller
Prof. Dr. Dominik M. Endres

Project Lead

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Bingel

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Bingel
Neurologist, Neuroscientist

Team

Dr. Katarina Forkmann
Postdoc, Psychologist, Neuroscientist

Dr. Angelika Kunkel
Postdoc, Psychologist

Dr. Katharina Schmidt
Postdoc, Psychologist, Neuroscientist

Dr. Julian Kleine-Borgmann
Clinician Scientist

Livia Asan
Clinician Scientist