• Placebo Analgesia in Neuropathic Pain: A Translational Investigative Approach from Rodents to Humans

      Akintola, Titilola; Colloca, Luana (2020)
      Pain is a complex phenomenon which can be influenced by various factors. Placebo analgesia (PA) is the experience of pain relief after the administration of a physiologically inert intervention via the expectation of benefit. However, adequate animal models of PA in chronic neuropathic pain were unavailable to determine how PA occurs in neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain (NP) is a chronic pain condition characterized by a dysfunction of the peripheral or central nervous system. There is still limited progress in translating the findings of preclinical studies to address the clinical burden of chronic pain. This is thought to partly reflect difficulties in reliably assessing pain in animals. Hence, we employ a translational approach in both rodents and humans to explore the occurrence of PA in chronic NP. First, I tested the hypothesis that the facial grimace scale is a useful metric of spontaneous pain in rodents. We performed a chronic constriction injury of the infraorbital nerve (CCI-ION) and tested for changes in mechanical hypersensitivity and grimace scores. Results showed rodents with CCI-ION had significantly higher grimace scores and lower mechanical withdrawal thresholds compared to controls. These changes were reversed by an opioid, indicating the grimace scale as a sensitive metric for assessing ongoing pain in CCI-ION. Secondly, I tested the hypothesis that pharmacological conditioning with fentanyl would produce PA in a rat model of CCI-ION. Rats were pharmacologically conditioned with or without contextual cues. We administered a placebo and found marginally significant PA effect via the grimace scale but not in mechanical sensitivity. These findings suggest that PA may be more challenging to induce in rodents. Finally, in humans, I investigated how NP-like symptoms in Temporomandibular Joint Disorder alter PA. The effect of NP on PA is yet to be fully understood. I tested the hypothesis that the presence of NP-like symptoms would decrease PA in TMD. NP assessment was carried out both in the orofacial region and across the whole body using validated screening tools. Our results showed that the presence of co-occurring NP-like symptoms increased PA in TMD. We also show that this effect is mediated by reinforced expectation.