The mere expectancy of pain relief has been shown to reduce pain in a manner that is reversible by opioid antagonists. Using positron-emission tomography and a mu-opioid-receptor selective radiotracer, Wagner et al. were able to measure the placebo-induced activation of the opioid system in specific brain regions. They found an increase in opioid neurotransmission in regions that have a central role in pain processing, demonstrating that placebo analgesic treatments potentiate the endogenous opioid response to painful stimuli.
Figure - Connectivity analysis of opioid binding potential. (A) 3D rendering of connectivity among regions that show placebo opioid responses.