The effects of analgesics on central processing of tonic pain: A cross-over placebo controlled study

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Opioids and antidepressants that inhibit serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake (SNRI) are recognized as analgesics to treat moderate to severe pain, but the central mechanisms underlying their analgesia remain unclear. This study investigated how brain activity at rest and exposed to tonic pain is modified by oxycodone (opioid) and venlafaxine (SNRI).


Twenty healthy males were included in this randomized, cross-over, double-blinded study. 61-channel electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded before and after five days of treatment with placebo, oxycodone (10 mg extended release b.i.d) or venlafaxine (37.5 mg extended release b.i.d) at rest and during tonic pain (hand immersed in 2 °C water for 80 s). Subjective pain and unpleasantness scores of tonic pain were recorded. Spectral analysis and sLORETA source localization were done in delta (1–4 Hz), theta (4–8 Hz), alpha (8–12 Hz), beta1 (12–18 Hz) and beta2 (18–32 Hz) frequency bands.


Oxycodone decreased pain and unpleasantness scores (P < 0.05), whereas venlafaxine decreased the pain scores (P < 0.05). None of the treatments changed the spectral indices or brain sources underlying resting EEG. Venlafaxine decreased spectral indices in alpha band of the EEG to tonic pain, whereas oxycodone decreased the spectral indices and brain source activity in delta and theta frequency bands (all P < 0.05). The brain source activity predominantly decreased in the insula and inferior frontal gyrus.


The decrease of activity within insula and inferior frontal gyrus is likely involved in pain inhibition due to oxycodone treatment, whereas the decrease in alpha activity is likely involved in pain inhibition due to venlafaxine treatment.

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