Targeting neural correlates of placebo effects

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2023 Apr;23(2):217-236. doi: 10.3758/s13415-022-01039-3. Epub 2022 Dec 14.


Harnessing the placebo effects would prompt critical ramifications for research and clinical practice. Noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and multifocal transcranial electric stimulation, could manipulate the placebo response by modulating the activity and excitability of its neural correlates. To identify potential stimulation targets, we conducted a meta-analysis to investigate placebo-associated regions in healthy volunteers, including studies with emotional components and painful stimuli. Using biophysical modeling, we identified NIBS solutions to manipulate placebo effects by targeting either a single key region or multiple connected areas. Moving to a network-oriented approach, we then ran a quantitative network mapping analysis on the functional connectivity profile of clusters emerging from the meta-analysis. As a result, we suggest a multielectrode optimized montage engaging the connectivity patterns of placebo-associated functional brain networks. These NIBS solutions hope to provide a starting point to actively control, modulate or enhance placebo effects in future clinical studies and cognitive enhancement studies.

Keywords: ALE maps; Functional connectivity; Networks; Noninvasive brain stimulation; Placebo effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation* / methods
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods