The human experience of pain is multidimensional and comprises sensory, affective, and cognitive dimensions. Preclinical assessment of pain has been largely focused on the sensory features that contribute to nociception. The affective (aversive) qualities of pain are clinically significant but have received relatively less mechanistic investigation in preclinical models. Recently, operant behaviors such as conditioned place preference, avoidance, escape from noxious stimulus, and analgesic drug self-administration have been used in rodents to evaluate affective aspects of pain. An important advance of such operant behaviors is that these approaches may allow the detection and mechanistic investigation of spontaneous neuropathic or ongoing inflammatory/nociceptive (i.e., nonevoked) pain that is otherwise difficult to assess in nonverbal animals. Operant measures may allow the identification of mechanisms that contribute differentially to reflexive hypersensitivity or to pain affect and may inform the decision to progress novel mechanisms to clinical trials for pain therapy. Additionally, operant behaviors may allow investigation of the poorly understood mechanisms and neural circuits underlying motivational aspects of pain and the reward of pain relief.
© 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.