Contribution of synaptic plasticity in the insular cortex to chronic pain

Neuroscience. 2016 Dec 3:338:220-229. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.08.014. Epub 2016 Aug 13.


Animal and human studies have consistently demonstrated that cortical regions are important for pain perception and pain-related emotional changes. Studies of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) have shown that adult cortical synapses can be modified after peripheral injuries, and long-term changes at synaptic level may contribute to long-lasting suffering in patients. It also explains why chronic pain is resistant to conventional analgesics that act by inhibiting synaptic transmission. Insular cortex (IC), another critical cortical area, is found to be highly plastic and can undergo long-term potentiation (LTP) after injury. Inhibiting IC LTP reduces behavioral sensitization caused by injury. LTP of glutamatergic transmission in pain related cortical areas serves as a key mechanism for chronic pain.

Keywords: adenylyl cyclase; chronic pain; insular cortex; long-term depression; long-term potentiation; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology