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Papers of the Week

Papers: 10 Feb 2024 - 16 Feb 2024

2024 Jan 30



Brain white matter pathways of resilience to chronic back pain: a multisite validation.


Mišić M, Lee N, Zidda F, Sohn K, Usai K, Löffler M, Uddin MN, Farooqi A, Schifitto G, Zhang Z, Nees F, Geha P, Flor H


Chronic back pain (CBP) is a global health concern with significant societal and economic burden. While various predictors of back pain chronicity have been proposed, including demographic and psychosocial factors, neuroimaging studies have shown that brain characteristics can serve as robust predictors of CBP. However, large-scale, multisite validation of these predictors is currently lacking. In two independent longitudinal studies, we examined white matter diffusion imaging data and pain characteristics in patients with subacute back pain (SBP) over six- and 12-month periods. Diffusion data from individuals with CBP and healthy controls (HC) were analyzed for comparison. Whole-brain tract-based spatial statistics analyses revealed that a cluster in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) tract had larger fractional anisotropy (FA) values in patients who recovered (SBPr) compared to those with persistent pain (SBPp), and predicted changes in pain severity. The SLF FA values accurately classified patients at baseline and follow-up in a third publicly available dataset (Area under the Receiver Operating Curve ∼ 0.70). Notably, patients who recovered had FA values larger than those of HC suggesting a potential role of SLF integrity in resilience to CBP. Structural connectivity-based models also classified SBPp and SBPr patients from the three data sets (validation accuracy 67%). Our results validate the right SLF as a robust predictor of CBP development, with potential for clinical translation. Cognitive and behavioral processes dependent on the right SLF, such as proprioception and visuospatial attention, should be analyzed in subacute stages as they could prove important for back pain chronicity.