While many mind-body therapies have shown promise for chronic pain, the efficacy of any single-modality treatment is typically modest, and finding a way to boost clinical outcomes is a crucially important goal. It is well documented, and recommended in the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on pain, that a multimodal approach is optimal for pain management. Multimodal analgesic strategies are thought to enhance benefits to patients by simultaneously targeting multiple pathways that contribute to chronic pain. Mind-body therapies have shown promise for pain, and many such therapies (e.g., mindfulness meditation (MM) training) are actually characterized as predominantly ?mind,? taking advantage of top-down brain-based mechanisms of action, without fully integrating bottom-up ?body?-based mechanisms. A greater use of ?mind? and ?body? elements via a multimodal therapeutic approach may enhance clinical outcomes through neurophysiological integration within the central nervous system (i.e., brain). Our overall goal in this proposal is to evaluate how and where such integration takes place for a common chronic pain disorder - migraine. Our 3 Projects will target 3 critical and inter-related pathophysiological processes that characterize migraine headache, and how both ?top-down? and ?bottom-up? interventions mitigate this pathology. To augment MM training, we propose a specifically-targeted, bottom-up therapy that has also shown promise for migraine - transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS). We will use a recently developed optimized tVNS approach that gates stimulation to the respiratory rhythm (i.e., respiratory-gated auricular vagal afferent nerve stimulation, RAVANS), which enhances the potential synergy, both conceptually and neurophysiologically, of combining tVNS with MM, with its own focus of non-judgmental attention on breathing with a calm and alert mind. All three projects will apply neuroimaging and other physiological and behavioral tools at baseline and following 8-weeks of a combination of RAVANS or Sham tVNS with MM or education control.
Aim 1, addressed by Project 1, will investigate brainstem and cortical mechanisms for reducing cortical/subcortical hyperexcitability.
Aim 2, addressed by Project 2, will evaluate MM+RAVANS tVNS improvements in autonomic and central autonomic network dysfunction.
Aim 3, addressed by Project 3, will use multimodal PET/MR imaging and a recently developed ligand for glial activation to assess anti-neuroinflammatory effects of MM+RAVANS tVNS therapy.
Aim 4 will investigate how the neurobiological changes assessed in Aims 1 to 3 are inter-related through mediation and other analyses performed by the Neuroimaging and Biostatistical Core, while the Clinical Core and Administrative Core will support recruitment and administration of our synergistic study design.

Public Health Relevance

Multi-modal therapies have shown promise for the treatment of pain and migraine headache. We propose that this also applies for mind-body therapies, and will evaluate the neurophysiological response of migraine treated by combined mindfulness meditation training and transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation therapies. We will apply functional MRI, MR spectroscopy, and PET to evaluate measures of central sensitization, dysautonomia, and neuroinflammation in these patients.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Research Program Projects (P01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAT1)
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Chen, Wen G
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Massachusetts General Hospital
United States
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