Association between chronic pain and alterations in the mesolimbic dopaminergic system

Seoyon Yang, Mathieu Boudier-Revéret, Yoo Jin Choo, Min Cheol Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Chronic pain (pain lasting for >3 months) decreases patient quality of life and even occupational abilities. It can be controlled by treatment, but often persists even after management. To properly control pain, its underlying mechanisms must be determined. This review outlines the role of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system in chronic pain. The mesolimbic system, a neural circuit, delivers dopamine from the ventral tegmental area to neural structures such as the nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and amygdala. It controls executive, affective, and motivational functions. Chronic pain patients suffer from low dopamine production and delivery in this system. The volumes of structures constituting the mesolimbic system are known to be decreased in such patients. Studies on administration of dopaminergic drugs to control chronic pain, with a focus on increasing low dopamine levels in the mesolimbic system, show that it is effective in patients with Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome, fibromyalgia, dry mouth syndrome, lumbar radicular pain, and chronic back pain. However, very few studies have confirmed these effects, and dopaminergic drugs are not commonly used to treat the various diseases causing chronic pain. Thus, further studies are required to determine the effectiveness of such treatment for chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number701
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: The present study was supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea grant funded by the Korean government (grant no. NRF-2019M3E5D1A02069399).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Addiction
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Dopaminergic drug
  • Dopaminergic system
  • Mesolimbic system


Dive into the research topics of 'Association between chronic pain and alterations in the mesolimbic dopaminergic system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this