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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 6402942, 9 pages
Review Article

The Role of Stress Regulation on Neural Plasticity in Pain Chronification

Xiaoyun Li1 and Li Hu1,2

1Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Ministry of Education and Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
2CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Beijing, China

Received 27 July 2016; Revised 2 November 2016; Accepted 14 November 2016

Academic Editor: Jason Huang

Copyright © 2016 Xiaoyun Li and Li Hu. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Pain, especially chronic pain, is one of the most common clinical symptoms and has been considered as a worldwide healthcare problem. The transition from acute to chronic pain is accompanied by a chain of alterations in physiology, pathology, and psychology. Increasing clinical studies and complementary animal models have elucidated effects of stress regulation on the pain chronification via investigating activations of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and changes in some crucial brain regions, including the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus. Although individuals suffer from acute pain benefit from such physiological alterations, chronic pain is commonly associated with maladaptive responses, like the HPA dysfunction and abnormal brain plasticity. However, the causal relationship among pain chronification, stress regulation, and brain alterations is rarely discussed. To call for more attention on this issue, we review recent findings obtained from clinical populations and animal models, propose an integrated stress model of pain chronification based on the existing models in perspectives of environmental influences and genetic predispositions, and discuss the significance of investigating the role of stress regulation on brain alteration in pain chronification for various clinical applications.