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Patients Control Pain with Real-Time Functional MRI

Study finds that MRI training could help patients reduce chronic pain

TUESDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Patients can control chronic pain by learning to use real-time functional MRI (rtfMRI), according to a study published Dec. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

R. Christopher deCharms, M.D., of Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and colleagues studied of 36 healthy volunteers and 12 pain patients.

The researchers found that subjects trained to use rtfMRI learned to control pain activation in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), a region of their brain involved in pain perception and regulation. When subjects deliberately induced increases or decreases in rACC fMRI activation, there was a corresponding change in the perception of pain caused by an applied noxious thermal stimulus.

"These findings show that individuals can gain voluntary control over activation in a specific brain region given appropriate training, that voluntary control over activation in rACC leads to control over pain perception, and that these effects were powerful enough to impact severe, chronic clinical pain," the authors conclude. "Approaches using rtfMRI will have to be fully tested in thorough clinical trials before clinical use."

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