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Pharmacogenomics J. 2016 Nov;16(6):491-500. doi: 10.1038/tpj.2016.15. Epub 2016 Mar 22.

Mechanisms of the placebo effect in pain and psychiatric disorders.

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Neurogenetics Section, Neuroscience Department, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Placebo effect research over the past 15 years has improved our understanding of how placebo treatments reduce patient symptoms. The expectation of symptom improvement is the primary factor underlying the placebo effect. Such expectations are shaped by past experiences, contextual cues and biological traits, which ultimately modulate one's degree of response to a placebo. The body of evidence that describes the physiology of the placebo effect has been derived from mechanistic studies primarily restricted to the setting of pain. Imaging findings support the role of endogenous opioid and dopaminergic networks in placebo analgesia in both healthy patients as well as patients with painful medical conditions. In patients with psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety disorders or depression, a vast overlap in neurological changes is observed in drug responders and placebo responders supporting the role of serotonergic networks in placebo response. Molecular techniques have been relatively underutilized in understanding the placebo effect until recently. We present an overview of the placebo responder phenotypes and genetic markers that have been associated with the placebo effect in pain, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and depression.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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