Research topic: Habituation and sensitisation


Habituation and sensitisation are two opposing behavioural reactions to repeated noxious stimulation. Whereas habituation describes the decreased perception to repeated administered painful stimuli, sensitization is characterized as the increase of perceived sensation to a stimulus over time. Even though the two phenomena are well-studied in short-term studies, little is known about long-term behaviour to repetitive nociceptive stimulation and the corresponding central mechanisms underlying these effects. We make use of functional MRT to determine neuronal interactions between involved pain-encoding brain regions and to identify functional networks which control the mechanisms of sensitization and habituation. It has been shown that habituation involves pain-processing regions and the antinociceptive network in the brain. Currently, we investigate if and how networks of pain-processing brain areas change during habituation.

Key publications

Bingel U, Schoell E, Herken W, Büchel C, May A (2007): Habituation to painful stimulation involves the antinociceptive system. Pain 131:21-30.

Latremoliere A, Woolf CJ (2009): Central Sensitization: A Generator of Pain Hypersensitivity by Central Neural Plasticity. J Pain 10:895-926.

May A, Rodriguez-Raecke R, Schulte A, Ihle K, Breimhorst M, Birklein F, Jürgens TP (2012): Within-session sensitization and between-session habituation: a robust physiological response to repetitive painful heat stimulation. Eur J Pain 16:401-409.

Rennefeld C, Wiech K, Schoell ED, Lorenz J, Bingel U (2010): Habituation to pain: further support for a central component. Pain 148:503-508.

Rodriguez-Raecke R, Ihle K, Ritter C, Muhtz C, Otte C, May A (2013): Neuronal differences between chronic low back pain and depression regarding long-term habituation to pain. European Journal of Pain. DOI: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2013.00407.x

I Ellerbrock, A Engel, A May; Microstructural and network abnormalities in headache; Current Opinion in Neurology (2013): Aug;26(4):353-9