The encoding of sensory information and expectations in the cerebral processing of pain
Our research group investigates how the human brain generates pain. Pain is a vital and fascinating phenomenon. It notifies us about impending threats and protects the body. While a life without pain might appear desirable at first, it would come at the price of significant injuries and a shortened lifespan. However, just because we all know pain, it doesn´t mean that we always experience it the same way. For instance, our previous experiences, our current expectations and our future goals critically influence the pain we feel. How the brain integrates all these processes and translates them into pain remains, to date, enigmatic.
We therefore aim to further the understanding of the brain processes, which determine the individual sensitivity of a person to pain, which explain why we perceive the same painful event differently in different situations, which make a pain treatment effective, and which form our expectations about a painful event before it happens. Understanding these processes provides basic insights into how the brain translates the outer world into an inner experience. Beyond, such insights are crucial for harnessing these processes for the treatment of pain.
However, pain can also occur for months and years without objective threat to the body. In these cases, pain has lost its protective function but represents a disease in its own right. Chronic pain affects between 20 and 30% of the adult population, has detrimental effects on quality of life and imposes an enormous burden on patients, health care systems and society. Recent evidence indicates that the brain figures prominently in the susceptibility, development and maintenance of chronic pain. Insights into the brain mechanisms of (chronic) pain therefore further the understanding of the pathophysiology of chronic pain and may help to develop biomarkers and novel treatment strategies for chronic pain.
To achieve these goals, we use electroencephalography (EEG) in combination with cutting-edge analysis techniques to investigate the role of neuronal oscillations, or brain rhythms, in the cerebral processing of pain. Moreover, we use non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial alternating current stimulation, tACS) and neurofeedback to modulate neuronal oscillations and alleviate pain. We are highly committed to the principles of reproducibility and open science. In particular, we preregister our studies, perform state-of-the-art statistical analyses and make our data and scripts openly available to the research community.
The PainLabMunich was founded in 2007 and is led by Markus Ploner. We are based at the Department of Neurology of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The lab is part of the TUM-Neuroimaging Center (TUM-NIC). Our research is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
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