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Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Oct 2019 - 18 Oct 2019


Human Studies


Front Neurosci


Exposure Induced Changes in Neural Circuitry for Pain-Related Fear: A Longitudinal fMRI Study in Chronic Low Back Pain.


Timmers I, de Jong JR, Goossens M, Verbunt JA, Smeets RJ, Kaas AL
Front Neurosci. 2019; 13:970.
PMID: 31607840.


Exposure (EXP) is a cognitive-behavioral treatment aimed at reducing pain-related fear in chronic pain, and has proven successful in reducing pain-related disability in patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP). The current longitudinal study aimed to reveal the neural correlates of changes in pain-related fear as a result of EXP. Twenty-three patients with cLBP were included in this study. Patients with cLBP underwent MRI scanning pre-treatment (pre-EXP), post-treatment (post-EXP), and 6 months after end of treatment (FU-EXP). Pain-free controls were scanned at two time points. In the scanner, participants were presented with pictures involving back-related movements, evoking pain-related fear in patients. Pre-treatment, functional MRI revealed increased activation in right posterior insula and increased deactivation in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in patients compared to controls. Post-treatment, patients reported reduced fear and pre-EXP group differences were no longer present. Contrasting pre- to post- and FU-EXP in patients revealed that stimulus-evoked neural responses changed in sensorimotor as well as cognitive/affective brain regions. Lastly, exploratory analyses revealed a tendency toward an association between changes in neural activation and changes in fear ratings, including the hippocampus and temporal lobe (pre- to post-EXP changes), and mPFC and posterior cingulate cortex (pre- to FU-EXP changes). Taken together, we show evidence that neural circuitry for pain-related fear is modulated by EXP, and that changes are associated with self-reported decreases in pain-related fear.