Published on: Friday, January 5, 2018

Suggestions to Reduce Clinical Fibromyalgia Pain and Experimentally Induced Pain Produce Parallel Effects on Perceived Pain but Divergent Functional MRI–Based Brain Activity (2016)

Stuart W.G. Derbyshire, Matthew G. Whalley, Stanley T.H. Seah, and David A. Oakley,

Psychosomatic Medicine

Objective: Hypnotic suggestion is an empirically validated form of pain control; however, the underlying mechanism remains unclear. Methods: Thirteen fibromyalgia patients received suggestions to alter their clinical pain, and 15 healthy controls received suggestions to alter experimental heat pain. Suggestions were delivered before and after hypnotic induction with blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) activity measured concurrently. Results: Across groups, suggestion produced substantial changes in pain report (main effect of suggestion, F2, 312 = 585.8; p < .0001), with marginally larger changes after induction (main effect of induction, F1, 312 = 3.6; p = .060). In patients, BOLD response increased with pain report in regions previously associated with pain, including thalamus and anterior cingulate cortex. In controls, BOLD response decreased with pain report. All changes were greater after induction. Region-of-interest analysis revealed largely linear patient responses with increasing pain report. Control responses, however, were higher after suggestion to increase or decrease pain from baseline. Conclusions: Based on behavioral report alone, the mechanism of suggestion could be interpreted as largely similar regard- less of the induction or type of pain experience. The functional magnetic resonance imaging data, however, demonstrated larger changes in brain activity after induction and a radically different pattern of brain activity for clinical pain compared with experimental pain. These findings imply that induction has an important effect on underlying neural activity mediating the effects of suggestion, and the mechanism of suggestion in patients altering clinical pain differs from that in controls altering experimental pain. Patient responses imply that suggestions altered pain experience via corresponding changes in pain-related brain regions, whereas control responses imply suggestion engaged cognitive control.

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