I am a
Home I AM A Search Login

Papers of the Week

Papers: 15 Jul 2023 - 21 Jul 2023

Basic Science, Psychology

Human Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology

Inflammation/Inflammatory, Musculoskeletal Pain, Neuropathic Pain, Psychological/Comorbidities


Brain Commun




Stress specifically deteriorates working memory in peripheral neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia.


Jacobsen HB, Brun A, Stubhaug A, Reme SE


This study aimed to explore the influence of chronic stress, measured through hair cortisol, on executive functions in individuals with chronic pain. We expected that there would be significant differences in chronic stress and executive functioning between pain patients and healthy controls, as well as between primary and secondary pain classifications. We also hypothesized that hair cortisol concentration was predictive of worse performance on tests of executive functions, controlling for objective and subjective covariates. For this study, 122 participants provided a hair sample ( = 40 with fibromyalgia; = 24 with peripheral neuropathic pain; = 58 matched healthy controls). Eighty-four of these participants also completed highly detailed testing of executive functions ( = 40 with fibromyalgia; = 24 with peripheral neuropathic pain; = 20 healthy controls). To assess differences in stress levels and executive functions, -tests were used to compare patients with controls as well as fibromyalgia with peripheral neuropathic pain. Then, univariate regressions were used to explore associations between stress and executive functioning in both chronic pain classifications. Any significant univariate associations were carried over to hierarchical multivariate regression models. We found that patients with chronic pain had significantly higher cortisol levels than healthy controls, but all groups showed similar executive functioning. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses disclosed that in a model controlling for age, sex and pain medication usage, hair cortisol levels explained 8% of the variance in spatial working memory strategy in individuals with chronic pain. The overall model explained 24% of the variance in spatial working memory. In a second model using imputed data, including both objective and subjectively reported covariates, hair cortisol levels explained 9% of the variance, and the full model 31% of the variance in spatial working memory performance. Higher levels of cortisol indicated worse performance. In this study, an applied measure of chronic stress, namely hair cortisol, explained a substantial part of the variance on a spatial working memory task. The current results have important implications for understanding and treating cognitive impairments in chronic pain.