A systematic review of structural and functional MRI studies on pain catastrophizing

Attila Galambos, Edina Szabó, Zita Nagy, Andrea Edit Édes, Natália Kocsel, Gabriella Juhász, Gyöngyi Kökönyei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Pain catastrophizing is reliably associated with pain reports during experimental pain in healthy, pain-free subjects and in people with chronic pain. It also correlates with self-reports of clinical pain intensity/severity in a variety of disorders characterized by chronic pain in adults, adolescents and children. However, processes, through which it exerts its effects are yet unclear. In this paper, our primary aim was to synthesize neuroimaging research to open a window to possible mechanisms underlying pain catastrophizing in both chronic pain patients and healthy controls. We also aimed to compare whether the neural correlates of pain catastrophizing are similar in these two groups. Methods: PubMed and the Web of Science were searched for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies that explored neural correlates of pain catastrophizing. Results: Twenty articles met the inclusion criteria. The results of our review show a connection between pain catastrophizing and brain areas tightly connected to pain perception (including the somatosensory cortices, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex and thalamus) and/or modulation (eg, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). Our results also highlight that these processes - in relation to pain catastrophizing - are more pronounced in chronic pain patients, suggesting that structural and functional brain alterations (and perhaps mechanisms) related to pain catastrophizing may depend on prior and/or relatively stable/constant pain experience. However, we also found methodological issues and differences that could lead to divergent results. Discussion: Based on our results, pain catastrophizing might be related to salience detection, pain processing, and top-down attentional processes. More research is recommended to explore neural changes to specific types of catastrophizing thoughts (eg, experimentally induced and/or state). Furthermore, we provide ideas regarding pain catastrophizing studies in the future for a more standardized approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1155-1178
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Pain Research
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2019


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