Brain circuits for pain and its treatment

Sci Transl Med. 2021 Nov 10;13(619):eabj7360. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abj7360. Epub 2021 Nov 10.


Pain is a multidimensional experience with sensory-discriminative, affective-motivational, and cognitive-evaluative components. Pain aversiveness is one principal cause of suffering for patients with chronic pain, motivating research and drug development efforts to investigate and modulate neural activity in the brain’s circuits encoding pain unpleasantness. Here, we review progress in understanding the organization of emotion, motivation, cognition, and descending modulation circuits for pain perception. We describe the molecularly defined neuron types that collectively shape pain multidimensionality and its aversive quality. We also review how pharmacological, stimulation, neurofeedback, surgical, and cognitive-behavioral interventions alter activity in these circuits to relieve chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Motivation*