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Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Aug 2023 - 18 Aug 2023

Basic Science, Psychology

Human Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology, Neuroimaging

Arthritis, Inflammation/Inflammatory, Musculoskeletal Pain, Psychological/Comorbidities

2023 Aug 11



Thalamic neurometabolite alterations in chronic low back pain: a common phenomenon across musculoskeletal pain conditions?


Weerasekera A, Knight PC, Alshelh Z, Morrissey EJ, Kim M, Zhang Y, Napadow V, Anzolin A, Torrado-Carvajal A, Edwards RR, Ratai EM, Loggia ML


Recently, we showed that patients with knee osteoarthritis (KOA) demonstrate alterations in the thalamic concentrations of several metabolites compared with healthy controls: higher myo-inositol (mIns), lower N-acetylaspartate (NAA), and lower choline (Cho). Here, we evaluated whether these metabolite alterations are specific to KOA or could also be observed in patients with a different musculoskeletal condition, such as chronic low back pain (cLBP). Thirty-six patients with cLBP and 20 healthy controls were scanned using 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and a PRESS (Point RESolved Spectroscopy) sequence with voxel placement in the left thalamus. Compared with healthy controls, patients with cLBP demonstrated lower absolute concentrations of NAA (P = 0.0005) and Cho (P < 0.05) and higher absolute concentrations of mIns (P = 0.01) when controlling for age, as predicted by our previous work in KOA. In contrast to our KOA study, mIns levels in this population did not significantly correlate with pain measures (eg, pain severity or duration). However, exploratory analyses revealed that NAA levels in patients were negatively correlated with the severity of sleep disturbance (P < 0.01), which was higher in patients compared with healthy controls (P < 0.001). Additionally, also in patients, both Cho and mIns levels were positively correlated with age (P < 0.01 and P < 0.05, respectively). Altogether, these results suggest that thalamic metabolite changes may be common across etiologically different musculoskeletal chronic pain conditions, including cLBP and KOA, and may relate to symptoms often comorbid with chronic pain, such as sleep disturbance. The functional and clinical significance of these brain changes remains to be fully understood.