Quirks and Quarks·Quirks & Quarks

Your brain on placebos

Pinpointing the location of the placebo effect in the brain
A fMRI slide of a placebo responder showing heightened activity in the mid frontal gyrus (Pascal Tetreault)

The 'placebo effect' happens when a person experiences relief of their symptoms after taking a medication that's not real. But time and again, patients report that relief is very real. And it's not just a person's imagination gone wild. Placebos won't get rid of tumours, or fix a broken bone, but in conditions like pain and depression, people actually feel better after taking a placebo. 

So how can something that's not real have such a potent effect? Researchers and medical professionals have been working on trying to figure out how a placebo works in the body and the brain. 

Now a new piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. Dr. Pascal Tétreault has figured out that the spot in the brain where the placebo response happens is the mid frontal gyrus. Knowing this, and the using the fMRI technique used to locate it, might play a role in the future of personalized medicine. 

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