Human Pain Seminar Series

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This series was borne out of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, which posed significant challenges to the pain community. Its purpose was to reinforce the message that the we—those who do human pain research—are part of a community.


I put together the #WeAreAllInThisTogether COVID-19 Journal Club. It's an opportunity to connect, to remain intellectually stimulated, to learn, and to keep up with the literature. 

It has evolved into a Seminar Series that highlights the work of our community, and allows members of the community at any stage of their career engage with the speakers.


We are supported by the University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain.

We meet over Zoom every so often - about every 3 weeks. The specifics, papers, and link to the Zoom will be posted here.


We look forward to seeing you all.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021, 11 am EST

Title: The role of network interactions in opioid analgesia

Presented by: Dr. Alexandra Tinnermann, Postdoctoral Fellow (Büchel Lab), University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany

Abstract: Opioids are potent and widely prescribed analgesic drugs with widespread cortical and subcortical targets. In particular, several brain regions such as the thalamus, the insula, the anterior cingulate cortex as well as the descending modulatory pain system including the spinal cord exhibit high µ-opioid receptor density and are thus crucial for opioid analgesia. Given the high degree of functional integration within these systems, we followed a network systems approach and investigated the entire pain system with a particular emphasis on the role of functional interactions underlying opioid analgesia. Male participants either received the rapid-acting µ-opioid receptor agonist remifentanil or saline while undergoing heat pain stimulation. In order to study the entire central pain system, we employed cortico-spinal fMRI which allows measuring BOLD responses simultaneously in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord and therefore enables investigating how opioids modulate interactions across the entire central pain system. Remifentanil reduced activity in several pain-related brain regions such as the insula, operculum and thalamus, but also in the spinal cord dorsal horn. In contrast, activity in the prefrontal cortex was higher during opioid treatment resulting from the absence of a pain-related deactivation. Importantly, activation in many of these regions correlated with individually perceived analgesia. Finally, functional interactions along the descending pain system, i.e. between the prefrontal cortex, periaqueductal gray and spinal cord were differentially modulated by remifentanil, indicating that coupling between the prefrontal cortex, brainstem and the spinal cord is a key mechanism of opioid analgesia..

Relevant paper (Preprint):

Zoom Link:

Meeting ID: 823 8668 5573

Password: Network

Tuesday, July 6, 2021, 8:30 am EST

Title: A Neuroimaging Biomarker for Sustained Experimental and Clinical Pain

Presented by: Choog-Wan (Wani) Woo, Assistant Professor, IBS Center for Neuroscience Imaging Research, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea

Abstract: Sustained pain is a major characteristic of clinical pain disorders, but it is difficult to assess in isolation from co-occurring cognitive and emotional features in patients. In this study, we developed a functional magnetic resonance imaging signature based on whole-brain functional connectivity that tracks experimentally induced tonic pain intensity and tested its sensitivity, specificity and generalizability to clinical pain across six studies (total n = 334). The signature displayed high sensitivity and specificity to tonic pain across three independent studies of orofacial tonic pain and aversive taste. It also predicted clinical pain severity and classified patients versus controls in two independent studies of clinical low back pain. Tonic and clinical pain showed similar network-level representations, particularly in somatomotor, frontoparietal and dorsal attention networks. These patterns were distinct from representations of experimental phasic pain. This study identified a brain biomarker for sustained pain with high potential for clinical translation.

Relevant paper:

Zoom Link:

Meeting ID: 886 4397 0504

Password: Biomarker

Friday, July 23 2021, 12 noon EST

Title: Brain plasticity for alternative hand control: From phantoms to supernumerary robotic fingers

Presented by: Dr. Tamar Makin, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL, London, UK

Abstract: Following arm-amputation, brain areas that previously operated the hand will be freed-up, and could potentially be “recruited” to work for other body parts. This process, termed brain plasticity, is widely held to result in the experience of phantom limb pain (pain that is perceived to be arising from the missing hand), and is therefore considered to be maladaptive. I will present evidence to challenge the proposed link between brain plasticity and phantom pain, and instead demonstrate that brain representation of the missing hand persists decades after amputation. I will next explore the idea the idea that brain plasticity can be harnessed to support adaptive behaviour. I will demonstrate hand-like representation of the toes of foot painters, born with missing upper limbs. Finally, I will present some recent studies looking at how able-bodied participants learn to use a robotic Third Thumb to provide a first glimpse into brain plasticity for motor augmentation. I will argue that brain plasticity is best driven by meaningful inputs, and could be exploited for improving rehabilitation, with exciting opportunities for substitution and augmentation devices. A more nuanced understanding of brain plasticity is needed in order to clarify the neural basis of phantom limb pain.

Zoom Link:

Meeting ID: 872 4875 1990

Password: Homunculus

Tuesday, September 24, 2021, 12 noon EST

Title: Can acute pain tolerance be measured remotely? Experiences from an online trial conducted during COVID-19 social distancing

Presented by: Katherine O’Connell, Ph.D. Candidate, Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Georgetown University Medical Center


Abstract: Large and supportive social environments have emerged as a potential protective factor against pain. In particular, social support has been linked to increased pain tolerance and reduced opioid use after surgery. Social support exhibits the capacity to be enhanced through some forms of meditation; however, it is unknown whether such an enhancement may correspond to improved acute pain experience in healthy adults. Working in the context of COVID-19 social distancing, two acute pain assays were designed to be safe, remote, and highly accessible for a U.S. sample and included a wall sit test and an ice cube holding test. We assessed pain tolerance and social support over online video chat before and after a social meditation training or active control. Trial results will be discussed as well as the strengths and limitations of remote, acute pain research.

Zoom Link: TBD

Meeting ID: TBD

Password: TBD