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Preliminary Evidence for the Sequentially Mediated Effect of Racism-Related Stress on Pain Sensitivity Through Sleep Disturbance and Corticolimbic Opioid Receptor Function

Published:September 23, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2022.09.004

      Highlights

      • Racism-related stress is the impact of racism on psychological wellbeing.
      • Sleep and mu-opioid receptor function mediated the effect of racism-related stress on pain.
      • Sleep intervention within racism-based trauma informed therapy might help reduce pain inequities.

      Abstract

      Sleep disturbance predicts worse pain outcomes. Because sleep disturbance inequitably impacts Black adults – with racism as the upstream cause – understanding how racism-related stress impacts pain through sleep might help minimize racialized pain inequities. This preliminary study examined sequential mediation of the effect of racism-related stress on experimental pain through sleep disturbance and corticolimbic μOR function in pain-free non-Hispanic Black (NHB) and White (NHW) adults. Participants completed questionnaires, actigraphy, positron emission tomography, and sensory testing. We reproduced findings showing greater sleep disturbance and pain sensitivity among NHB participants; greater sleep disturbance (r = .35) and lower pain tolerance (r=-.37) were significantly associated with greater racism-related stress. In a sequential mediation model, the total effect of racism-related stress on pain tolerance (β=-.38, P = .005) weakened after adding sleep disturbance and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) μOR binding potential (BPND) as mediators (β = -.18, P = .16). The indirect effect was statistically significant [point estimate = -.003, (-.007, -.0003). Findings showed a potential sequentially mediated effect of racism-related stress on pain sensitivity through sleep disturbance and vmPFC μOR BPND. As policy efforts are enacted to eliminate the upstream cause of systemic racism, these results cautiously suggest that sleep interventions within racism-based trauma informed therapy might help prevent downstream effects on pain.

      Perspective

      This preliminary study identified the effect of racism-related stress on pain through sleep disturbance and mu-opioid receptor binding potential in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Findings cautiously support the application of sleep interventions within racism-based trauma-informed therapy to prevent pain inequities as policy changes function to eliminate all levels of racism.

      Key words

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