Neuro-Bio-Behavioral Mechanisms of Placebo and Nocebo Responses: Implications for Clinical Trials and Clinical Practice

Pharmacol Rev. 2015 Jul;67(3):697-730. doi: 10.1124/pr.114.009423.


The placebo effect has often been considered a nuisance in basic and particularly clinical research. This view has gradually changed in recent years due to deeper insight into the neuro-bio-behavioral mechanisms steering both the placebo and nocebo responses, the evil twin of placebo. For the neuroscientist, placebo and nocebo responses have evolved as indispensable tools to understand brain mechanisms that link cognitive and emotional factors with symptom perception as well as peripheral physiologic systems and end organ functioning. For the clinical investigator, better understanding of the mechanisms driving placebo and nocebo responses allow the control of these responses and thereby help to more precisely define the efficacy of a specific pharmacological intervention. Finally, in the clinical context, the systematic exploitation of these mechanisms will help to maximize placebo responses and minimize nocebo responses for the patient's benefit. In this review, we summarize and critically examine the neuro-bio-behavioral mechanisms underlying placebo and nocebo responses that are currently known in terms of different diseases and physiologic systems. We subsequently elaborate on the consequences of this knowledge for pharmacological treatments of patients and the implications for pharmacological research, the training of healthcare professionals, and for the health care system and future research strategies on placebo and nocebo responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Brain / physiology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nocebo Effect*
  • Placebo Effect*