Pain is a subjective, multi-dimensional experience with sensory, affective and cognitive components. The affective (aversive) dimensions of pain are the main complaint of patients. We have attempted to capture and mechanistically evaluate affective dimensions of ongoing pain in preclinical settings. The aversiveness of pain provides strong motivational drive to seek relief. Thus, treatments known to relieve pain clinically produce conditioned place preference selectively in injured animals, inferring activation of brain reward pathways. This possibility is consistent with human data that relief of pain is rewarding. In this application, we ask whether, and how, relief of ongoing pain might modulate brain reward circuits. Additionally, we explore whether manipulations that selectively target affective, rather than sensory, components of pain also activate reward circuits. We will use a rat model of time-dependent incisional pain to explore the potential activation of reward pathways by pain relief resulting from either peripheral nerve block (block of afferent input) or manipulations within the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC, i.e., modulation of aversiveness without altering nociceptive input). We will use anatomical (IHC), neurochemical (in vivo microdialysis), behavioral and imaging (animal fMRI) analyses to characterize the functional activation of the nucleus accumbens (NAc)(Aim 1) and/or ventral tegmental area (VTA)(Aim 2) by pain relief or the expectation of relief. Functional connectivity between the rACC and the NAc that underlies motivated behavior to seek relief will be studied in Aim 3. Understanding circuits that reflect relief of ongoing pain will help to identify new molecular targets that may be exploited for discovery of therapies directly targeting affective dimensions of pain that may have increased translational relevance and ultimately validating a biomarker of pain relief (i.e., analgesia).

Public Health Relevance

The affective (aversive) dimensions of pain are the main complaint of patients. Human data reveal that relief of pain is rewarding. Understanding the brain circuits that mediate aversiveness of pain, and the reward resulting from relief of pain, may help to speed discovery of new therapies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-IFCN-B (03))
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Lynch, Minda
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University of Arizona
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Navratilova, Edita; Porreca, Frank (2014) Reward and motivation in pain and pain relief. Nat Neurosci 17:1304-12
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