Dopaminergic and serotonergic mechanisms in the modulation of pain:In vivostudies in human brain

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Here we review the literature assessing the roles of the brain dopaminergic and serotonergic systems in the modulation of pain as revealed by in vivo human studies using positron emission tomography. In healthy subjects, dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability particularly in the striatum and serotonin 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptor availabilities in the cortex predict the subject's response to tonic experimental pain. High availability of dopamine D2/D3 or serotonin 5-HT2A receptors is associated with high pain intensity, whereas high availability of 5-HT1A receptors associates with low pain intensity. Chronic neuropathic pain is associated with high striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability, for which low endogenous dopamine tone is a plausible explanation, although a compensatory increase in striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor density may also contribute. In contrast, chronic musculoskeletal pain is associated with low baseline availability of striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptors. In healthy subjects, brain serotonin 5-HT1A as well as dopamine D2/D3 receptor availabilities associate with the subject's response criterion rather than the capacity to discriminate painful thermal stimuli suggesting that these neurotransmitter systems act mainly on non-sensory rather than sensory factors of thermally induced pain experience. Additionally, 5-HT1A receptor availability predicts the subject's discriminative ability but not response criterion for non-painful tactile test stimuli, while no such correlation is observed with dopamine D2/D3 receptors. These findings suggest that dopamine acting on striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptors and serotonin acting on cortical 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptors contribute to top-down pain regulation in humans.

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