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Papers of the Week

2019 Jul-Aug

Pain Rep



Trigeminal nerve and white matter brain abnormalities in chronic orofacial pain disorders.



The orofacial region is psychologically important, given that it serves fundamental and important biological purposes. Chronic orofacial pain disorders affect the head and neck region. Although some have clear peripheral etiologies, eg, classic trigeminal neuralgia, others do not have a clear etiology (eg, muscular temporomandibular disorders). However, these disorders provide a unique opportunity in terms of elucidating the neural mechanisms of these chronic pain conditions: both the peripheral and central nervous systems can be simultaneously imaged. Diffusion-weighted imaging and diffusion tensor imaging have provided a method to essentially perform in vivo white matter dissections in humans, and to elucidate abnormal structure related to clinical correlates in disorders, such as chronic orofacial pains. Notably, the trigeminal nerve anatomy and architecture can be captured using diffusion imaging. Here, we review the trigeminal somatosensory pathways, diffusion-weighted imaging methods, and how these have contributed to our understanding of the neural mechanisms of chronic pain disorders affecting the trigeminal system. We also discuss novel findings indicating the potential for trigeminal nerve diffusion imaging to develop diagnostic and precision medicine biomarkers for trigeminal neuralgia. In sum, diffusion imaging serves both an important basic science purpose in identifying pain mechanisms, but is also a clinically powerful tool that can be used to improve treatment outcomes.