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Papers of the Week

Papers: 1 May 2021 - 7 May 2021


Human Studies

2021 May 11

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A



Manipulating placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia by changing brain excitability.


Tu Y, Wilson G, Camprodon J, Dougherty DD, Vangel M, Benedetti F, Kaptchuk TJ, Gollub RL, Kong J
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 May 11; 118(19).
PMID: 33941677.


Harnessing placebo and nocebo effects has significant implications for research and medical practice. Placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia, the most well-studied placebo and nocebo effects, are thought to initiate from the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and then trigger the brain's descending pain modulatory system and other pain regulation pathways. Combining repeated transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), an expectancy manipulation model, and functional MRI, we investigated the modulatory effects of anodal and cathodal tDCS at the right DLPFC on placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia using a randomized, double-blind and sham-controlled design. We found that compared with sham tDCS, active tDCS could 1) boost placebo and blunt nocebo effects and 2) modulate brain activity and connectivity associated with placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia. These results provide a basis for mechanistic manipulation of placebo and nocebo effects and may lead to improved clinical outcomes in medical practice.