I am a
Home I AM A Search Login

Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Oct 2019 - 18 Oct 2019


Human Studies


Front Psychiatry


Are Individual Learning Experiences More Important Than Heritable Tendencies? A Pilot Twin Study on Placebo Analgesia.


Weimer K, Hahn E, Mönnikes N, Herr A-K, Stengel A, Enck P
Front Psychiatry. 2019; 10:679.
PMID: 31620030.


Predicting who will be a placebo responder is a prerequisite to maximize placebo effects in pain treatment and to minimize them in clinical trials. First evidence exists that genetics could affect placebo effects. However, a classical twin study to estimate the relative contribution of genetic influences compared to common and individual environmental influences in explaining interindividual differences in placebo responsiveness has yet not been performed. In a first explorative twin study, 25 monozygotic (MZ) and 14 dizygotic (DZ) healthy twin pairs (27.5 ± 7.7 years; 73% female) were conditioned to the efficacy of a placebo analgesic ointment with an established heat pain paradigm on their non-dominant arm. Placebo analgesia was then tested on their dominant arm. Furthermore, warmth detection thresholds (WDTs) and heat pain thresholds (HPTs) were assessed, and participants filled in questionnaires for the assessment of psychological traits such as depression, anxiety, optimism, pain catastrophizing, and sensitivity to reward and punishment. Their expectations were determined with a visual analog scale. There was a small but significant placebo analgesic effect in both MZ and DZ twins. Estimates of heritability were moderate for WDT only but negligible for HPT, the conditioning response, and placebo analgesia. Common environment did not explain any variance, and the individual environment explained the largest parts. Therefore, the placebo analgesia response can be seen as influenced by individual learning experiences during the conditioning procedure, whereas other variables assessed were not associated. Compared to the individual learning experience, genetic influences seem to play a minor role in explaining variation in placebo analgesia in this experimental paradigm. However, our results are restricted to placebo effects through conditioning on pain in healthy volunteers and should be replicated in larger samples and in patients. Furthermore, potential gene-environment interactions should be further investigated.