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Papers of the Week

Papers: 3 Oct 2020 - 9 Oct 2020

Human Studies

2020 Sep 20

Neuroimage Clin


Sensitivity of functional connectivity to periaqueductal gray localization, with implications for identifying disease-related changes in chronic visceral pain: A MAPP Research Network neuroimaging study.


Previous studies examining the resting-state functional connectivity of the periaqueductal gray (PAG) in chronic visceral pain have localized PAG coordinates derived from BOLD responses to provoked acute pain. These coordinates appear to be several millimeters anterior of the anatomical location of the PAG. Therefore, we aimed to determine whether measures of PAG functional connectivity are sensitive to the localization technique, and if the localization approach has an impact on detecting disease-related differences in chronic visceral pain patients. We examined structural and resting-state functional MRI (rs-fMRI) images from 209 participants in the Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Chronic Pelvic Pain (MAPP) Research Network study. We applied three different localization techniques to define a region-of-interest (ROI) for the PAG: 1) a ROI previously-published as a Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) coordinate surrounded by a 3 mm radius sphere (MNI-sphere), 2) a ROI that was hand-traced over the PAG in a MNI template brain (MNI-trace), and 3) a ROI that was hand-drawn over the PAG in structural images from 30 individual participants (participant-trace). We compared the correlation among the rs-fMRI signals from these PAG ROIs, as well as the functional connectivity of these ROIs with the whole brain. First, we found important non-uniformities in brainstem rs-fMRI signals, as rs-fMRI signals from the MNI-trace ROI were significantly more similar to the participant-trace ROI than to the MNI-sphere ROI. We then found that choice of ROI also impacts whole-brain functional connectivity, as measures of PAG functional connectivity throughout the brain were more similar between MNI-trace and participant-trace compared to MNI-sphere and participant-trace. Finally, we found that ROI choice impacts detection of disease-related differences, as functional connectivity differences between pelvic pain patients and healthy controls were much more apparent using the MNI-trace ROI compared to the MNI-sphere ROI. These results indicate that the ROI used to localize the PAG is critical, especially when examining brain functional connectivity changes in chronic visceral pain patients.