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Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2014 Jan;77(1):72-95. doi: 10.1111/bcp.12137.

Electroencephalography and analgesics.

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  • 1Mech-Sense, Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Aalborg University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark.


To assess centrally mediated analgesic mechanisms in clinical trials with pain patients, objective standardized methods such as electroencephalography (EEG) has many advantages. The aim of this review is to provide the reader with an overview of present findings in analgesics assessed with spontaneous EEG and evoked brain potentials (EPs) in humans. Furthermore, EEG methodologies will be discussed with respect to translation from animals to humans and future perspectives in predicting analgesic efficacy. We searched PubMed with MeSH terms 'analgesics', 'electroencephalography' and 'evoked potentials' for relevant articles. Combined with a search in their reference lists 15 articles on spontaneous EEG and 55 papers on EPs were identified. Overall, opioids produced increased activity in the delta band in the spontaneous EEG, but increases in higher frequency bands were also seen. The EP amplitudes decreased in the majority of studies. Anticonvulsants used as analgesics showed inconsistent results. The N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine showed an increase in the theta band in spontaneous EEG and decreases in EP amplitudes. Tricyclic antidepressants increased the activity in the delta, theta and beta bands in the spontaneous EEG while EPs were inconsistently affected. Weak analgesics were mainly investigated with EPs and a decrease in amplitudes was generally observed. This review reveals that both spontaneous EEG and EPs are widely used as biomarkers for analgesic drug effects. Methodological differences are common and a more uniform approach will further enhance the value of such biomarkers for drug development and prediction of treatment response in individual patients.


analgesics; electroencephalography; evoked potentials; pain; pharmacologic actions

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