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J Neurochem. 2017 May;141(4):499-506. doi: 10.1111/jnc.14012. Epub 2017 Apr 6.

Functional and structural plasticity in the primary somatosensory cortex associated with chronic pain.

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Department of Physiology, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea.
Division of Homeostatic Development, National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Okazaki, Aichi, Japan.
Department of Physiological Sciences, The Graduate School for Advanced Study, Hayama, Kanagawa, Japan.
Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Tokyo, Japan.


Tissue or nerve injury induces widespread plastic changes from the periphery and spinal cord up to the cortex, resulting in chronic pain. Although many clinicians and researchers have extensively studied altered nociceptive signaling and neural circuit plasticity at the spinal cord level, effective treatments to ameliorate chronic pain are still insufficient. For about the last two decades, the rapid development in macroscopic brain imaging studies on humans and animal models have revealed maladaptive plastic changes in the 'pain matrix' brain regions, which may subsequently contribute to chronic pain. Among these brain regions, our group has concentrated for many years on the primary somatosensory (S1) cortex with a help of advanced imaging techniques and has found the functional and structural changes in neurons/glia as well as individual synapses in the S1 cortex during chronic pain. Taken together, it is now believed that such S1 plasticity is one of the causes for chronic pain, not a simple and passive epiphenomenon following tissue/nerve injury as previously thought. In this small review, we discuss the relation of plasticity in the S1 cortex with chronic pain, based on clinical trials and experimental studies conducted on this field. This article is part of the special article series "Pain".


chronic pain; primary somatosensory cortex; synaptic plasticity; two-photon microscopy

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