Ploner, Markus

Brain mechanisms of pain

Our research group investigates how the human brain generates pain. Pain is a vital phenomenon which signals threat and protects the body. However, pain is also influenced by many contextual processes. 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 advance the understanding of these brain processes. 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 which has detrimental effects on quality of life. 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) to modulate neuronal oscillations and alleviate pain.

Selected publications:

Ta Dinh S, Nickel MM, Tiemann L, May ES, Heitmann H, Hohn VD, Edenharter G, Utpadel-Fischler D, Tölle TR, Sauseng P, Gross J, Ploner M. Brain dysfunction in chronic pain patients assessed by resting-state electroencephalography. Pain 160:2751-2765, 2019.

May ES, Nickel MM, Ta Dinh S, Tiemann L, Heitmann H, Voth I, Tölle TR, Gross J, Ploner M. Prefrontal gamma oscillations reflect ongoing pain intensity in chronic back pain patients. Hum Brain Mapp 40:293-305, 2019.

Tiemann L, Hohn VD, Ta Dinh S, May ES, Nickel MM, Gross J, Ploner M. Distinct patterns of brain activity mediate perceptual and motor and autonomic responses to noxious stimuli. Nat Commun 9: 4487, 2018.

Davis K, Flor H, Greely H, Iannetti GD, Mackey S, Ploner M, Pustilnik A, Tracey I, Treede RD, Wager TD. Brain imaging tests for chronic pain: medical, and legal, and neuroethical considerations and recommendations. Nat Rev Neurol 13:624-638, 2017.
Ploner M, Sorg C, Gross J. Brain Rhythms of Pain. Trends Cogn Sci 21:100-110, 2017.