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PLoS One. 2008;3(10):e3396. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003396. Epub 2008 Oct 16.

Colocalized structural and functional changes in the cortex of patients with trigeminal neuropathic pain.

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PAIN Group, Brain Imaging Center, Mclean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.



Recent data suggests that in chronic pain there are changes in gray matter consistent with decreased brain volume, indicating that the disease process may produce morphological changes in the brains of those affected. However, no study has evaluated cortical thickness in relation to specific functional changes in evoked pain. In this study we sought to investigate structural (gray matter thickness) and functional (blood oxygenation dependent level - BOLD) changes in cortical regions of precisely matched patients with chronic trigeminal neuropathic pain (TNP) affecting the right maxillary (V2) division of the trigeminal nerve. The model has a number of advantages including the evaluation of specific changes that can be mapped to known somatotopic anatomy.


Cortical regions were chosen based on sensory (Somatosensory cortex (SI and SII), motor (MI) and posterior insula), or emotional (DLPFC, Frontal, Anterior Insula, Cingulate) processing of pain. Both structural and functional (to brush-induced allodynia) scans were obtained and averaged from two different imaging sessions separated by 2-6 months in all patients. Age and gender-matched healthy controls were also scanned twice for cortical thickness measurement. Changes in cortical thickness of TNP patients were frequently colocalized and correlated with functional allodynic activations, and included both cortical thickening and thinning in sensorimotor regions, and predominantly thinning in emotional regions.


Overall, such patterns of cortical thickness suggest a dynamic functionally-driven plasticity of the brain. These structural changes, which correlated with the pain duration, age-at-onset, pain intensity and cortical activity, may be specific targets for evaluating therapeutic interventions.

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