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Beissner, Florian; Preibisch, Christine; Schweizer-Arau, Annemarie; Popovici, Roxana M.; Meissner, Karin (2018): Psychotherapy With Somatosensory Stimulation for Endometriosis-Associated Pain: The Role of the Anterior Hippocampus. In: Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 84, No. 10: pp. 734-742
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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Endometriosis is a gynecological disorder affecting 6%-10% of all women in their reproductive age. There is an emerging view in the literature that psychological trauma plays a central role in the pathogenesis of pelvic pain, one of the core symptoms of endometriosis. Here we report central nervous system mechanisms of a novel combination of psychotherapy and somatosensory stimulation that has recently shown remarkable effects in reducing pain, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in these patients. METHODS: We conducted a randomized controlled trial;67 patients with severe endometriosis-associated pain (maximum pain: 7.6 +/- 2.0, average pain: 4.5 +/- 2.0 on a 10-point numeric rating scale) were included in the study and randomly allocated to intervention (35 patients) or waitlist control (32 patients) groups. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess brain connectivity of these patients at baseline, after 3 months of therapy, and after 6 months. The analysis focused on the hippocampus. RESULTS: We identified a cortical network comprising the right anterolateral hippocampus-a region modulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis-and somatosensory, viscerosensory, and interoceptive brain regions. Regression analysis showed that reduction in connectivity predicted therapy-induced improvement in patients' anxiety. CONCLUSIONS: We have identified a putative neurobiological mechanism underlying the potent combination of psychotherapy and somatic stimulation in treating symptoms of endometriosis.