PD Dr. Frauke Nees

Department of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Herta Flor

Department of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University


The role of learning, stress and underlying brain circuits involving prefrontal-limbic interactions in the development of chronic back pain

We proposed that emotional learning and accompanying plasticity in emotion-related brain circuits is a core characteristic of chronic back pain in contrast to a focus on nociceptive circuits in acute pain. While a number of studies have shown that psychosocial factors predict persistent pain, little is known how these relate to altered learning processes and the role of stress analgesia, and about the associated changes in brain structure and function that might predict persistent pain.

Our data from the first funding period indicate disturbed emotional learning in interaction with stress sensitivity and comorbidity and concomitant altered somatosensory-limbic interactions as determinants of chronicity. In the second funding period we plan to extend our analyses to the role of social learning and related brain structure-function circuits in pain chronicity. Specifically, based on operant learning theory, we assume that significant others with solicitous compared to non-solicitous responses to the patients’ pain behaviours enhance pain perception and activation in brain circuits involved in affective processing, with social support modulating this relationship.

We expect to be able to link learning-related predictors of chronicity with those resulting from brain structure-function analyses and epidemiological studies, and to the new data of the role of social reinforcement and brain correlates. Finally, we will have causal information on involved brain circuits, related behaviours and psychological factors and can derive new assessments as well as treatment options. .


  • New research findings from the Grinevich Lab (Project B02)

    (New paper published in Nature Neuroscience)


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  • New discovery in the pathophysiology of diabetic neuropathy

    (New paper published in Neuron)


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  • Gender equality in science and career development

    Supporting the work of the ALBA Network


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  • The Heidelberg Outpatient Center for Clinical Pain Research (HeiSIS)

    Congratulations to SFB 1158 Project Leader, Prof. Dr. Jonas Tesarz, on becoming the Head of a new facility in his department: The "Heidelberg Outpatient Center for Clinical Pain Research (HeiSIS)"


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  • Dr. Frauke Nees accepts new position in Kiel

    Congratulations to Dr. Frauke Nees, one of the Consortium's PIs, on her new position as the Director of the Institute of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology and W3 Professorship for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology in the Medical Faculty of the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel.