Apparent Effects of Opioid Use on Neural Responses to Reward in Chronic Pain

Sci Rep. 2019 Jul 3;9(1):9633. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45961-y.


Neural responses to incentives are altered in chronic pain and by opioid use. To understand how opioid use modulates the neural response to reward/value in chronic pain, we compared brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) responses to a monetary incentive delay (MID) task in patients with fibromyalgia taking opioids (N = 17), patients with fibromyalgia not taking opioids (N = 17), and healthy controls (N = 15). Both groups of patients with fibromyalgia taking and not taking opioids had similar levels of pain, psychological measures, and clinical symptoms. Neural responses in the nucleus accumbens to anticipated reward and non-loss outcomes did not differ from healthy controls in either fibromyalgia group. However, neural responses in the medial prefrontal cortex differed, such that patients with fibromyalgia not taking opioids demonstrated significantly altered responses to anticipated rewards and non-loss outcomes compared to healthy controls, but patients with fibromyalgia taking opioids did not. Despite limitations including the use of additional non-opioid medications by fibromyalgia patients taking opioids, these preliminary findings suggest relatively "normalized" neural responses to monetary incentives in chronic pain patients who take opioids versus those who do not.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / complications*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Prefrontal Cortex


  • Analgesics, Opioid