Mechanisms of placebo analgesia: rACC recruitment of a subcortical antinociceptive network

Pain. 2006 Jan;120(1-2):8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2005.08.027. Epub 2005 Dec 20.


Placebo analgesia is one of the most striking examples of the cognitive modulation of pain perception and the underlying mechanisms are finally beginning to be understood. According to pharmacological studies, the endogenous opioid system is essential for placebo analgesia. Recent functional imaging data provides evidence that the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) represents a crucial cortical area for this type of endogenous pain control. We therefore hypothesized that placebo analgesia recruits other brain areas outside the rACC and that interactions of the rACC with these brain areas mediate opioid-dependent endogenous antinociception as part of a top-down mechanism. Nineteen healthy subjects received and rated painful laser stimuli to the dorsum of both hands, one of them treated with a fake analgesic cream (placebo). Painful stimulation was preceded by an auditory cue, indicating the side of the next laser stimulation. BOLD-responses to the painful laser-stimulation during the placebo and no-placebo condition were assessed using event-related fMRI. After having confirmed placebo related activity in the rACC, a connectivity analysis identified placebo dependent contributions of rACC activity with bilateral amygdalae and the periaqueductal gray (PAG). This finding supports the view that placebo analgesia depends on the enhanced functional connectivity of the rACC with subcortical brain structures that are crucial for conditioned learning and descending inhibition of nociception.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Analgesia / psychology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Threshold
  • Physical Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Placebos / administration & dosage
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiopathology*


  • Placebos