Blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes in total cortex and subcortex, pain, reward, and vigilance regions during mechanical pressure pain after morphine administration

Theodora Dorina Papageorgiou, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Morphine is the most common clinical choice in the management of severe pain. Although the molecular mechanisms of morphine have already been characterized, the cerebral circuits by which it attenuates the sensation of pain have not yet been studied in humans. The objective of this two-arm (morphine versus placebo), between-subjects study was to examine whether morphine affects pain via pain-related cortical circuits, but also via reward regions that relate to the motivational state, as well as prefrontal regions that relate to vigilance as a result of morphine's sedative effects. Cortical activity was measured by the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The novelty of this study is at three levels: (i) to develop a methodology that will assess the average BOLD signal across subjects for the pain, reward, and vigilance cortical systems; (ii) to examine whether the reward and/or sedative effects of morphine are contributing factors to cortical regions associated with the motivational state and vigilance; and (iii) to propose a neuroanatomical model related to the opioid-sensitive effects of reward and sedation as a function of cortical activity related to pain in an effort to assess future analgesics. Consistent with our hypotheses, our findings showed that the decrease in total pain-related volume activated between the post- and the pre-treatment morphine group was about 78%, while the post-treatment placebo group displayed only a 5% decrease when compared to pre-treatment levels of activation. The volume increase in reward regions was 451% in the post-treatment compared to the pre-treatment morphine condition. Finally, the volumetric decrease in vigilance regions was 63% in the posttreatment compared to the pre-treatment morphine condition. These findings imply that changes in the blood flow of the reward and vigilance regions may be contributing factors in producing the analgesic effect under morphine administration. Future studies need to replicate this study in a higher resolution fMRI environment and to assess the proposed neuroanatomical model in patient populations. The necessity of pain research is apparent, since pain cuts across different diseases especially chronic ones, and thus, is recognized as a vital public health developing area.

Subject Area

Neurology|Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Papageorgiou, Theodora Dorina, "Blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes in total cortex and subcortex, pain, reward, and vigilance regions during mechanical pressure pain after morphine administration" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3258579.