Molecular mechanisms of the interaction between pain and reward associated with pain relief processes in the human brain are still incompletely understood. This is partially due to the invasive nature of the available techniques to visualize and measure metabolic activity. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) radioligand studies using radioactive substances are still the only available modality to date that allows for the investigation of the molecular mechanisms in the human brain. For pain and reward studies, the most commonly studied PET radiotracers are [11C]-carfentanil (CFN) and [11C]- or [18F]-diprenorphine (DPN), which bind to opioid receptors, and [11C]-raclopride (RAC) and [18F]-fallypride (FAL) tracers, which bind to dopamine receptors. The current meta-analysis looks at 15 pain-related studies using opioid radioligands and 8 studies using dopamine radioligands in an effort to consolidate the available data into the most likely activated regions. Our primary goal was to identify regions of shared opioid/dopamine neurotransmission during pain-related experiences. SDM analysis of previously published voxel coordinate data showed that opioidergic activations were strongest in the bilateral caudate, thalamus, right putamen, cingulate gyrus, midbrain, inferior frontal gyrus, and left superior temporal gyrus. The dopaminergic studies showed that the bilateral caudate, thalamus, right putamen, cingulate gyrus, and left putamen had the highest activations. We were able to see a clear overlap between opioid and dopamine activations in a majority of the regions during pain-related processing, though there were some unique areas of dopaminergic activation such as the left putamen. Regions unique to opioidergic activation include the midbrain, inferior frontal gyrus, and left superior temporal gyrus. By investigating the regions of dopaminergic and opioidergic activation, we can potentially provide more targeted treatment to these sets of receptors in patients with pain conditions. These findings could eventually assist in the development of more targeted medication in order to help treat pain conditions and simultaneously prevent physical dependency.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience