Duke Anesthesiology’s Katherine Martucci, PhD, is among the investigators on a cross-departmental research team that has been awarded a 2020 Research Incubator Award ($75,000 grant) from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) for their project titled, “Neural Mechanisms Underlying Tobacco Withdrawal-Induced Hyperalgesia.”
This award is designed to promote high-risk/high-return neuroscience research that is collaborative, crosses disciplinary boundaries, and is likely to draw external funding. The collaborative project brings together Martucci, and Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences’ Drs. Maggie Sweitzer, F. Joseph McClernon and Alison Adcock.
Chronic pain and cigarette smoking influence one another, in that smokers are more likely to have pain, and individuals with pain are more likely to smoke. People with chronic pain have more difficulty quitting smoking, in part, because temporarily going without smoking (early withdrawal) leads to increased pain sensitivity.
The goal of the study is to examine the brain’s response to heat pain stimuli among smokers in early withdrawal, to better understand the reasons for increased pain sensitivity. Daily smokers will complete two fMRI sessions, one after smoking as usual, and one after not smoking for 24 hours. During the scans, participants will experience heat pain delivered through an electrode and will provide ratings of their pain response. It is expected that participants’ ratings of pain in response to heat stimuli will be greater during the withdrawal session, and that this increased pain will be associated with greater activation throughout a network of brain regions involved in perceiving pain. This approach will allow the research team to determine which brain regions are most involved in pain sensitivity during withdrawal and which will help to identify targets for treatment. In addition, these processes might differ among smokers who also have chronic pain, compared to those who do not. As such, half of the participants will be those diagnosed with chronic pain, while the other half will be pain-free. The investigators anticipate that the effects of smoking withdrawal on pain-related brain function will be more pronounced among those with chronic pain.