The Neurobiological Basis of the Placebo Effect and Potential Therapeutic Applications

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Celeste Acosta


Two patients, Patient A and B, are diagnosed with the same chronic pain condition after a catastrophic car accident. Both patients experience the same type of chronic pain around their neck and lower back. Both patients receive the same prescription from the same doctor, except one bottle of pills does not contain any active drug. Both patients experience pain relief from their symptoms in a few weeks and improve their condition drastically with the treatment. How is this possible if only one of the patients received an active drug compound? The placebo (pla-see-boh) effect, or placebo response, can be described as the “improvement of symptoms” in an individual after receiving a substance under a certain context that is supposed to have no real therapeutic effect (Ortega et al., 2022). But what does this really mean? Is there a neurobiological basis to the placebo effect? Is there an opportunity for the usage of placebo treatments in a clinical setting? In the United States, a country largely influenced by big pharmaceutical companies, delving deeper into the biological basis and further therapeutic application might be seen as a potential threat but nevertheless, a necessary effort to make.

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Author Biography

Celeste Acosta, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Hello! My name is Celeste Acosta and I’m a Senior in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Psychology! I’m from Cicero, Illinois. I’m currently training to work at the Physical and Neurocognitive Health Lab with Dr. Dominika Pindus and her team on campus. I love learning about the brain and it’s wonderful ability to constantly change itself even in the most challenging circumstances! In the future I’d like to apply what I’ve learned about Neuroscience in a clinical setting as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. In my free time I like to take pictures, read, play Animal Crossing, and spend time with my family back home!