The relationship between adverse life events and endogenous inhibition of pain and spinal nociception: Findings from the Oklahoma Study of Native American Pain Risk (OK-SNAP).

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Adverse life events (ALEs) are a risk factor for chronic pain; however, mechanisms underlying this association are not understood. This study examined whether cumulative ALE exposure impairs endogenous inhibition of pain (assessed from pain report) and spinal nociception (assessed from nociceptive flexion reflex; NFR) in healthy, pain-free Native Americans (n=124) and non-Hispanic Whites (n=129) during a conditioned pain modulation (CPM) task. Cumulative ALE exposure was assessed prior to testing by summing the number of potentially traumatic events experienced by each participant across their lifespan. Multilevel modeling found that ALEs were associated with NFR modulation during the CPM task even after controlling for general health, body mass index, sex, age, blood pressure, sleep quality, stimulation intensity, stimulus number, perceived stress, and psychological distress. Low exposure to ALEs was associated with NFR inhibition, whereas high exposure to ALEs was associated with NFR facilitation. By contrast, pain perception was inhibited during the CPM task regardless of the level of ALE exposure. Race/ethnicity did not moderate these results. Thus, ALEs may be pronociceptive for both Native Americans and non-Hispanic Whites by impairing descending inhibition of spinal nociception. This could contribute to a chronic pain risk phenotype involving latent spinal sensitization. Perspective: This study found that adverse life events were associated with impaired descending inhibition of spinal nociception in a sample of Native Americans and non-Hispanic Whites. These findings expand on previous research linking adversity to chronic pain risk by identifying a proximate physiological mechanism for this association.

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Authors: Parker A Kell, Natalie Hellman, Felicitas A Huber, Edward W Lannon, Bethany L Kuhn, Cassandra A Sturycz, Tyler A Toledo, Mara J Demuth, Burkhart J Hahn, Joanna O Shadlow, Jamie L Rhudy