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Title: Defining the neural correlates of pain and analgesia in health and disease
Author: Mezue, Melvin Nnanyelu
ISNI:       0000 0004 5349 3873
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Chronic neuropathic pain affects up to 8% of the United Kingdom population and is a difficult condition to manage. It is established and maintained through many mechanisms, including central sensitisation (CS) in the spinal cord and brainstem. Neuropathic pain manifests as spontaneous pain, sensory loss and evoked hypersensitivity. The development of novel treatments for neuropathic pain is challenging, in part due to inadequate experimental models of clinically relevant pain. The use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques for imaging acute and increasingly tonic states enables the assessment of the neural correlates of evoked hypersensitivity and persistent pain, with the goal of developing appropriate biomarkers to test new therapies. This thesis develops novel techniques for the assessment of ongoing pain states and their modulation by therapies. We first identified a suitable human experimental model of CS using topical capsaicin, and an fMRI pipeline for the investigation of supraspinal involvement in pain hypersensitivity. In a placebo-controlled study, we then demonstrated the improved sensitivity of fMRI above subjective reports in detecting the efficacy of a known analgesic as compared to an ineffective active compound in a small cohort. To translate this to the more clinically relevant symptom of spontaneous pain, we developed and validated the use of a multi-inversion time pseudo-continuous arterial spin labelling (ASL) imaging and analysis pipeline for the neural assessment of tonic states and the absolute quantification of cerebral blood flow (CBF). Current evidence from structural and functional studies suggests a direct role for the posterior insula cortex in the encoding of nociception and pain. Using the ASL pipeline, we found that only a CBF change in the posterior insula region was correlated with the changing perception of persistent capsaicin-induced pain, and in a separate experiment showed that suppression of CBF in this region by gabapentin was related to the drug's suppression of subjective pain perception. We also demonstrated in a cohort of phantom limb patients that pain relief resulting from transcranial direct current stimulation of the deprived sensorimotor cortex is neurally represented by a decrease in posterior insula CBF. In a separate study, we showed that baseline CBF in the periaqueductal grey can predict individuals who are most vulnerable to pain and hypersensitivity following the induction of capsaicin-related CS. Taken together, these findings suggest that fMRI can be used as a tool to assess the efficacy of established and novel analgesics, with the midbrain reticular formation and posterior insula cortex being prime candidates as biomarkers of CS mechanisms and persistent pain respectively. Relatedly, ASL-fMRI may also be an effective technique for evaluating individuals' susceptibility to pain following inflammation or injury.
Supervisor: Tracey, Irene Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Anaesthetics ; pain ; analgesia ; FMRI ; central sensitisation ; ASL ; neuroimaging ; tdcs ; phantom limb pain