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Effect of environment on the long-term consequences of chronic pain

Monday, September 22, 2014 — Poster Session II

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FAES Academic Center



* FARE Award Winner


  • MC Bushnell
  • M Ceko
  • V Cotton
  • JL Gracely
  • LA Low
  • MH Pitcher
  • C Villemure


Chronic pain has consequences beyond the pain itself, with patients showing associated anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction. Rodent models confirm similar emotional and cognitive changes in controlled longitudinal studies, suggesting that the effects are caused by the chronic pain condition, rather than reflecting unrelated differences in pain patients. Brain imaging studies in pain patients and rodent models show alterations in gray matter volume, white matter integrity and even epigenetic changes in the brain. Despite the widespread nature of the changes, there is evidence that these effects can be prevented or reversed by environmental factors. In pain patients, lifestyle choices, such as yoga or meditation, reduce pain perception and counter age-related decreases in gray matter volume and white matter integrity. This contrasts with chronic pain that accelerates gray matter loss and disrupts white matter. Rodent models show that increased stress alters pain behaviors, whereas socially and physically enriched environments reduce such behavior and reduce pain-related brain changes. Together, these data indicate that the far-reaching adverse effects of chronic pain are not inevitable and may be reduced or prevented by environmental factors that could affect pain modulatory systems in the brain.

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