Placebo effects and the molecular biological components involved

Gen Psychiatr. 2019 Sep 6;32(5):e100089. doi: 10.1136/gpsych-2019-100089. eCollection 2019.


Pharmacologically inactive substances have been used in medicine for more than 700 years and can trigger beneficial responses in the human body, which is referred to as the placebo effects or placebo responses. This effect is robust enough to influence psychosocial and physiological responses to the placebo and to active treatments in many settings, which has led to increased interest from researchers. In this article, we summarise the history of placebo, the characteristics of placebo effects and recent advancements reported from the studies on placebo effects and highlight placebome studies to identify various molecular biological components associated with placebo effects. Although placebos have a long history, the placebome concept is still in its infancy. Although behavioural, neurobiological and genetic studies have identified that molecules in the dopamine, opioid, serotonin and endocannabinoid systems might be targets of the placebo effect, placebome studies with a no-treatment control (NTC) are necessary to identify whole-genome genetic targets. Although bioinformatics analysis has identified the molecular placebome module, placebome studies with NTCs are also required to validate the related findings.

Keywords: genome analysis; placebo; placebome; psychiatric treatments; randomised clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review