The study and treatment of clinical pain has historically identified particular pain syndromes and linked their etiology with disease factors. Missing in this approach is consideration of the mechanisms accounting for the pain that is experienced by the patient. The recent increase in our understanding of how peripheral and central mechanisms contribute to the perception of pain, including the identified role of prostaglandins, has led to a shift in treatment strategy to directly target these mechanisms. This article provides a brief overview of pain mechanisms, focusing on inflammatory pain, and discusses the role of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 inhibitors as analgesic agents.
Pain remains a serious health care problem affecting millions of individuals, costing billions of dollars, and causing an immeasurable amount of human suffering. In designing improved therapies, there is still much to learn about peripheral nociceptor, nerves, and the spinal cord, and brain stem modulatory systems. Nevertheless, it is the brain that presents us with an incredible opportunity to understand the experience we call pain. Functional neuroimaging is helping to unlock the secrets of the sensory and emotional components of pain and its autonomic responses. These techniques are helping us to understand that pain is not a static disease with the pathologic findings localized to the periphery but is instead a highly plastic condition affecting multiple central neural systems. Functional neuroimaging is transforming our understanding of the neurobiology of pain and will be instrumental in helping us to design more rational treatments ultimately aimed at reducing the impact of pain on our patients. It is opening windows into the function of the brain that were previously closed.
Understanding one s own and other individual s emotional states is essential for maintaining emotional equilibrium and strong social bonds. Although the neural substrates supporting ref lection upon one s own feelings have been investigated, no studies have directly examined attributions about the internal emotional states of others to determine whether common or distinct neural systems support these abilities. The present study sought to directly compare brain regions involved in judging one s own, as compared to another individual s, emotional state. Thirteen participants viewed mixed valence blocks of photos drawn from the International Affective Picture System while whole-brain fMRI data were collected. Preblock cues instructed participants to evaluate either their emotional response to each photo, the emotional state of the central figure in each photo, or (in a baseline condition) whether the photo was taken indoors or outdoors. Contrasts indicated (1) that both self and other judgments activated the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), the superior temporal gyrus, and the posterior cingulate/precuneus, (2) that self judgments selectively activated subregions of the MPFC and the left temporal cortex, whereas (3) other judgments selectively activated the left lateral prefrontal cortex (including Broca s area) and the medial occipital cortex. These results suggest (1) that self and other evaluation of emotion rely on a network of common mechanisms centered on the MPFC, which has been hypothesized to support mental state attributions in general, and (2) that medial and lateral PFC regions selectively recruited by self or other judgments may be involved in attention to, and elaboration of, internally as opposed to externally generated information.