Campus Only Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
W.M. Keck Science Department
© 2013 Annie Belanger
How is the brain capable of mediating pain relief via the mind alone? Placebo analgesia is just such a case, wherein an inert substance yields relief from a number of pain inducing stimuli. Scholars typically separate several factors thought to contribute to the placebo effect into psychological and neurobiological influences. Psychological mechanisms include expectation and conditioning of analgesic effects, while neurobiological mechanisms implicate the opioidergic descending pain system. The current paper proposes an integrative model in which the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), implicated in cognitive-affective modulation, receives goal-directed input (i.e., expected pain relief) from the prefrontal cortex. As the rACC processes the cognitive difference between expected and actual pain, it recruits a critical descending pain pathway by means of modulating the periaqueductal gray area (PAG). The PAG is a key relay station that connects to other endogenous subsystems of opioidergic pain relief. Whether the rACC and its connection to the PAG are necessary for the placebo effect is a question future research will have to address.
Belanger, Annie, "Brain Basis of the Placebo Effect: A Proposed Integrative Model Implicating the Rostral Anterior Cingulate" (2013). Scripps Senior Theses. 272.
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