Scientists at work


Placebo Sweet Spot for Pain Identified in Brain

Posted By Meg Washburn


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New study first to pinpoint unique brain region responsible for placebo response in pain


  • Finding could usher in an era of personalized interventions for chronic pain sufferers
  • New technology will enable targeted pain medication based on an individual’s brain response
  • Clinical trials for pain drugs will be more accurate by weeding out placebo responders
  • 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain


Scientists have identified for the first time the region in the brain responsible for the “placebo effect” in pain relief, when a fake treatment actually results in substantial reduction of pain, according to new research from Northwestern Medicine and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).     

Pinpointing the sweet spot of the pain killing placebo effect could result in the design of more personalized medicine for the 100 million Americans with chronic pain. The fMRI technology developed for the study has the potential to usher in an era of individualized pain therapy by enabling targeted pain medication based on how an individual’s brain responds to a drug.

The finding also will lead to more precise and accurate clinical trials for pain medications by eliminating individuals with high placebo response before trials.

The scientists discovered a unique brain region within the mid frontal gyrus that identifies placebo pill responders in one trial and can be validated (95 percent correct) in the placebo group of a second trial.

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