for females ages 18-50 (full criteria)
at Los Angeles, California and other locations
study started
completion around
Principal Investigator
by Andrea Rapkin, MD



Vestibulodynia (VBD) is a complex chronic vulvar pain condition that impairs the psychological, physical, and sexual health of 1 in 6 reproductive aged women in the United States. Here, the investigators plan to conduct a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial to 1) compare the efficacy of peripheral (lidocaine/estradiol cream), centrally-targeted (nortriptyline), and combined treatments in alleviating pain and improving patient-reported outcomes and 2) determine cytokine and microRNA biomarkers that predict treatment response in women with distinct VBD subtypes. Positive findings from this study will readily translate to improved patient care, permitting the millions of women with VBD, their partners, and their clinicians to make more informed decisions about pain management.


Vestibulodynia (VBD) is a chronic pelvic pain condition that affects 1 in 6 reproductive aged women, yet remains ineffectively treated by standard trial-and-error approaches. The investigators have identified two distinct VBD subtypes that may benefit from different types of treatment: 1) VBD peripheral (VBD-p) subtype characterized by localized pain specific to the vulvar vestibule, and 2) VBD central (VBD-c) subtype characterized by pain at both vaginal and remote body regions. Preliminary data further demonstrate that VBD-p and VBD-c subtypes differ with respect to patient reported outcomes (e.g., physical and mental health), production of cytokines (intracellular proteins that regulate the activity of pain nerves and inflammatory processes), and expression of microRNAs (small non-coding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression). Women with VBD-p exhibit normal psychological profiles; balanced circulating pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines; and dysregulation in microRNAs that regulate the expression of genes in estrogen pathways. In contrast, women with VBD-c report decreased functional status and increased somatization; increased pro-inflammatory but not anti-inflammatory cytokines; and dysregulation in microRNAs that regulate the expression of genes relevant to muscle, nerve, and immune cell function. Based on these data, the investigators hypothesize that two VBD-p and VBD-c subtypes will preferentially respond to peripheral, central, or combined treatments and can be distinguished by cytokine and microRNA profiles. These hypotheses will be tested in a phase III clinical trial that evaluates diverse treatment strategies in women with VBD-p and VBD-c. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of four parallel arms: peripheral treatment with 5% lidocaine + 0.5 mg/ml 0.02% estradiol compound cream, 2) central treatment with the tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline, 3) combined peripheral and central treatments, or 4) placebo. The treatment phase will last 4 months (with a 6-week titration at treatment initiation and 2-week taper period at 4 months), with outcome measures and biomarkers assessed at 4 time points (0, 2, 4, and 6 months). First, the investigators will compare the efficacy of treatments in alleviating pain among women with VBD-p and VBD-c using standardized tampon insertion with a numeric rating scale and self-reported pain on the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Next, the investigators will compare the efficacy of treatments in improving perceived physical, mental, and sexual health among women with VBD-p and VBD-c using standardized questionnaires. Finally, investigators will measure cytokines and microRNAs in women with VBD-p versus VBD-c using multiplex assays and RNA sequencing, and determine the ability of these biomarkers to predict treatment response. Successful completion of the proposed work will provide new insights into the mechanisms that drive pain perception and treatment response in two distinct VBD subtypes, and determine the efficacy of peripheral, central, and combined therapies in reversing this pain. Such findings will readily translate to improved patient care, permitting the millions of women with VBD, their partners, and clinicians to make more informed decisions about pain management.


Vestibulodynia, Temporomandibular Disorder, Fibromyalgia Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Migraines, Tension Headache, Endometriosis, Interstitial Cystitis, Back Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Pelvic pain, Lidocaine, Estradiol, Nortriptyline, Chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, Myofascial Pain Syndromes, Temporomandibular Joint Disorders, Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome, Tension-Type Headache, Cystitis, Vulvodynia, Vulvar Vestibulitis, Syndrome, 5% lidocaine/5 mg/ml 0.02% estradiol compound cream


You can join if…

Open to females ages 18-50

  1. Female
  2. Age 18-50 years
  3. English-literate
  4. Willingness to provide informed consent
  5. Meeting criteria for diagnosis of VBD based on:
    1. self-report of 3 continuous months of insertional (entryway) dyspareunia, and/or pain to touch/tampon insertion
    2. pain score of ≥ 3 on the tampon insertion test

You CAN'T join if...

  1. Use of daily topical lidocaine, or estradiol, or lidocaine/estradiol to the vulvar vestibule within the past three months
  2. Use of nortriptyline or other TCA medications within the past three months
  3. Use of pregabalin or gabapentin within the past three months
  4. Presence of active dermatologic vulvar disease or vaginal infection
  5. Untreated atrophic vaginitis (participants may undergo treatment and re-evaluation for enrollment if the condition is resolved)
  6. Previous vestibulectomy
  7. Pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant during the study period. Within the first six months of the postpartum period. Currently breastfeeding/lactating, or within three months of discontinuing breastfeeding/lactation.
  8. Active incarceration
  9. Cancer within the past year.

    10. Chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment within the past year. 11. Unstable medical condition (e.g., renal impairment, significant hematological disease,

    cardiovascular disease, hepatic insufficiency, neurological disorder, autoimmune disease, or respiratory illness)

    12. Clear inflammatory states (e.g., morbid obesity) 13. Use of immunosuppressant medications 14. History of intolerance to nortriptyline, topical lidocaine, or topical estradiol 15. Contraindications to use of nortriptyline: current use, or use within the past 3

    months, of MAOIs, SSRIs, SNRIs, NDRIs; recent (within the past year) myocardial infarction, active psychotic or suicidal thoughts, narrow angle closure glaucoma

    16. Contraindications to the use of lidocaine or local anesthetics 17. Contraindications to the use of topical estrogen therapy 18. Post-menopausal, defined as no menses for 12 consecutive months or surgical removal of

    both ovaries. (Hysterectomy is not an exclusion)

    19. Have not had Botox of the pelvic floor muscles in the last 12 months, or pelvic nerve

    blocks in the last three months.

    20. Are not currently enrolled or planning to enroll in another clinical trial during the

    course of this trial.

    21. Are not currently receiving pelvic physical therapy


  • University of California, Los Angeles accepting new patients
    Los Angeles California 90095 United States
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill accepting new patients
    Chapel Hill North Carolina 27278 United States

Lead Scientist at UCLA

  • Andrea Rapkin, MD
    Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medicine. Authored (or co-authored) 84 research publications


accepting new patients
Start Date
Completion Date
Duke University
VBD UPDATe study website Sign up for this study
Phase 2 research study
Study Type
Expecting 400 study participants
Last Updated