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Papers: 16 May 2020 - 22 May 2020

2020 May 13

Int J Mol Sci



The Medial Prefrontal Cortex as a Central Hub for Mental Comorbidities Associated with Chronic Pain.


Kummer KK, Mitrić M, Kalpachidou T, Kress M
Int J Mol Sci. 2020 May 13; 21(10).
PMID: 32414089.


Chronic pain patients frequently develop and suffer from mental comorbidities such as depressive mood, impaired cognition, and other significant constraints of daily life, which can only insufficiently be overcome by medication. The emotional and cognitive components of pain are processed by the medial prefrontal cortex, which comprises the anterior cingulate cortex, the prelimbic, and the infralimbic cortex. All three subregions are significantly affected by chronic pain: magnetic resonance imaging has revealed gray matter loss in all these areas in chronic pain conditions. While the anterior cingulate cortex appears hyperactive, prelimbic, and infralimbic regions show reduced activity. The medial prefrontal cortex receives ascending, nociceptive input, but also exerts important top-down control of pain sensation: its projections are the main cortical input of the periaqueductal gray, which is part of the descending inhibitory pain control system at the spinal level. A multitude of neurotransmitter systems contributes to the fine-tuning of the local circuitry, of which cholinergic and GABAergic signaling are particularly emerging as relevant components of affective pain processing within the prefrontal cortex. Accordingly, factors such as distraction, positive mood, and anticipation of pain relief such as placebo can ameliorate pain by affecting mPFC function, making this cortical area a promising target region for medical as well as psychosocial interventions for pain therapy.