Rapidly developing, non-invasive, neuroimaging methods provide increasingly detailed structural and functional information about the nervous system, helping advance our understanding of pain processing, chronic pain conditions and the mechanisms of analgesia. However, effective treatment for many chronic pain conditions remains a large, unmet medical need. Neuroimaging techniques may enhance our understanding of why currently available analgesics are ineffective for so many patients and aid in identifying new neural targets for pharmacological interventions of pain. This review examines how neuroimaging has enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms of chronic pain, the neural correlates of pharmacological modulation of pain, and the role of neuroimaging in analgesic development. Rather than focusing on one method, we discuss the advantages and limitations of several techniques that may each serve a unique role in aiding drug development, and we discuss current issues that exist in the design and implementation of pharmacological neuroimaging studies. Particularly, experimental design must be carefully considered as there are limitations in terms of the pharmacokinetics of the drug of interest as well as in respect to the capabilities of the neuroimaging method in use. Finally, we identify future directions including novel approaches that may also play a role in furthering our knowledge of the neural basis of analgesia. In the future, neuroimaging will certainly impact the methodology of analgesic drug development as it may lead to quicker and more efficient methods of evaluating the neural modulation of chronic pain.
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View details for PubMedID 18721001