The Role of Brain Imaging in Chronic Pain Research: A Podcast With David Seminowicz

David SeminowiczDavid Seminowicz is an associate professor in the department of neural and pain sciences at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore, US, where he runs a lab that studies chronic pain. In particular, his lab is interested in discovering the brain mechanisms of pain. His group performs brain imaging research in humans and in animals with the overall goal of identifying brain regions and circuits that change with chronic pain. He’s also interested in determining how interventions restore normal brain function. In this RELIEF podcast, David discusses what happens in the brain during chronic pain; the studies he is performing to better understand chronic pain conditions like low back pain, migraine, and burning mouth syndrome; and how brain imaging findings may help lead to new treatments. For a written transcript of the podcast, please click here. For a glossary of terms used in the podcast, please see below. (Note: For slower connections, the video may take longer to load. If you experience difficulty, the video is also available through YouTube here).


Biomarker: A measurable indicator of a disease state, such as chronic pain. Pain researchers are using brain imaging to determine whether particular patterns of brain activity can serve as a biomarker of chronic pain.

Blood-brain barrier: A barrier that prevents certain substances in the circulatory system from entering the brain.

Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC): An area of the cerebral (brain) cortex, towards the front of the brain, that is associated with many different brain functions, including pain signaling.

Gray matter: The darker tissue of the central nervous system that is made of nerve fibers that lack a surrounding myelin sheath (which helps to facilitate nerve signaling). This is in contrast to white matter, which is the lighter tissue of the central nervous system that is made of nerve fibers enveloped by the myelin sheath.

Insula: An area of the brain, deep in the folds of the cerebral cortex, that plays a role in numerous brain functions, including pain signaling.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An imaging technique that uses magnets in order to visualize the body, including the brain. In pain research, structural MRI is used to provide images of brain structures with a role in chronic pain, while functional MRI provides information about brain activity associated with chronic pain.

Positron emission tomography (PET): An imaging technique, different from MRI, that uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to visualize the functioning of tissues and organs. Pain researchers use PET to understand the role of the brain during chronic pain.