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Papers of the Week

Papers: 23 May 2020 - 29 May 2020

Human Studies

2020 May 18


Impaired mesocorticolimbic connectivity underlies increased mechanical pain sensitivity in chronic low back pain.


Yu S, Li W, Shen W, Edwards RR, Gollub RL, Wilson G, Park J, Ortiz A, Cao J, Gerber J, Mawla I, Chan S-T, Lee J, Wasan AD, Napadow V, Kaptchuk TJ, Rosen B, Kong J
Neuroimage. 2020 May 18:116969.
PMID: 32439536.


Chronic low back pain (cLBP) is a prevalent disorder. A growing body of evidence linking the pathology of the reward network to chronic pain suggests that pain sensitization may contribute to cLBP chronification via disruptions of mesocortical and mesolimbic circuits in the reward system. Resting-state (RS) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data was acquired from 90 patients with cLBP and 74 matched pain-free controls (HCs) at baseline and after a manipulation for back pain intensification. The ventral tegmental area (VTA) was chosen as a seed region to perform RS functional connectivity (FC) analysis. Baseline rsFC of both the mesocortical (between the VTA and bilateral rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) / and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)) and mesolimbic (between the VTA and bilateral hippocampus/parahippocampus) pathways was reduced in patients with cLBP (vs. HCs). In addition, patients exhibiting higher back pain intensity (compared to the relatively lower back pain intensity condition) also showed increases in both mesocortical and mesolimbic connectivity, implicating these pathways in pain downregulation in cLBP. Mediation analysis further isolated the mesolimbic (VTA-hippocampus/ parahippocampus) dysconnectivity as a neural mechanism mediating the association between mechanical pain sensitivity (indexed by P40 pressure) and cLBP severity. In sum, the current study demonstrates deficient mesocorticolimbic connectivity in cLBP, with the mesolimbic dysconnectivity potentially mediating the contribution of pain sensitization to pain chronification. These reward network dysfunctions and purportedly, dopaminergic dysregulations, may help us to identify key brain targets of neuromodulation in the treatment of cLBP.