NEPAL (Neuromodulatory Examination of Pain and Mobility Across the Lifespan) (NEPAL)

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  • sponsor
    University of Florida
Updated on 9 June 2022
chronic pain
Accepts healthy volunteers


Musculoskeletal pain represents the leading cause of disability worldwide. It has been traditionally attributed to peripheral mechanisms, but peripheral damage, inflammation, and psychological factors have failed to significantly account for the presence, absence, or severity of chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP). Recent studies show that individuals with CMP exhibit dysfunctional pain modulation supporting a significant central nervous system (CNS) contribution. However, the CNS mechanisms underlying these changes in pain modulation are not currently known, nor is their relation to clinical pain progression. The proposed pilot examines brain circuits recently described in predicting the transition from acute to chronic pain, in predicting clinical and experimental pain changes as well as physical performance and mobility changes in older persons with musculoskeletal pain over a one year period. The findings will provide novel and important information regarding the mechanisms underlying aberrant pain processing and its functional consequences in older adults with musculoskeletal pain. The information learned can be subsequently used to target treatment and prevention strategies in future studies of older adults. The central hypothesis is that increased functional and structural connectivity of cortico-striatal regions will be significantly associated with baseline clinical and experimental pain and decreased physical function in persons with CMP and will account for more rapid clinical pain and disability progression over time.


Chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) is the most common, non-malignant disabling condition that affects at least one in four older people. The most common painful musculoskeletal conditions among older adults are osteoarthritis, low back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic shoulder pain, knee pain, myofascial pain syndrome and previous fracture sites. Recent studies demonstrate generalized alterations of pain processing among older individuals with CMP. An improved understanding of the mechanisms underlying CMP-related changes in pain modulation will provide a basis for the development of targeted preventive and rehabilitative strategies. In light of evidence emphasizing plasticity of white matter connections, and the potential pain relieving effects of non-invasive brain stimulation interventions, it seems reasonable to identify these connections as potential targets for future treatment approaches. Given the expected growth of the older population, such strategies could have a monumental impact in reducing healthcare expenditures and improving the quality of life of older adults.

Condition Musculoskeletal Pain, Pain, Chronic
Treatment Questionnaires, Quantitative Sensory Testing, MRI Neuroimaging, Physical and Cognitive Function Testing
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT02488863
SponsorUniversity of Florida
Last Modified on9 June 2022


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Inclusion Criteria

older adults over 60 years of age with and without musculoskeletal pain
healthy young adults between the ages of 18-25

Exclusion Criteria

pregnant women
history of alcohol/drug abuse in the past
known intra-cerebral pathology or epilepsy
significant cognitive impairment as evidenced by the 3MS
hospitalizations for mental health reasons in the past year
not meeting MRI screening requirements (implants, prosthesis, artificial limb/joint, shunt, metal rods, hearing aid, claustrophobia or anxiety)
chronic/current use of narcotic medications
serious systemic (uncontrolled diabetes; self reported A1C>7), neurological , or cardiovascular disease (uncontrolled hypertension >155/90)
liver or kidney disease
inability to consent for study participation
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