AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Study in Teens Shows That Brain Responses to Rewards are Linked to Pain Sensitivity

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Patterns of brain responses to rewards are a significant predictor of pain symptoms—a link that is already present by adolescence—and may be influenced by gene variants affecting pain sensitivity. “Distributed” feedback patterns to rewards predict heightened pain sensitivity, according to the new research led by Frauke Nees, PhD, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany. The researchers write, “Our results might provide a first step early in life in identifying possible risk factors for future pain complaints.” A group of more than 600 European adolescents were studied at two times. At ages 14-15, the teens participated in an experiment in which they could earn rewards—in the form of M&M’s candies—for performing a computer task. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans were performed to examine how the brain processed these rewards. Two years later, the teens were evaluated on a commonly used pain symptom scale.

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