Altered regional brain T2 relaxation times in individuals with chronic orofacial neuropathic pain
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© 2018 The Authors
The neural mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of chronic pain following nerve injury remain unclear. There is growing evidence that chronic neuropathic pain is associated with altered thalamic firing patterns, thalamocortical dysrhythmia and altered infra-slow oscillations in ascending pain pathways. Preclinical and post-mortem human studies have revealed that neuropathic pain is associated with prolonged astrocyte activation in the dorsal horn and we have suggested that this may result in altered gliotransmission, which results in altered resting neural rhythm in the ascending pain pathway. Evidence of astrocyte activation above the level of the dorsal horn in living humans is lacking and direct measurement of astrocyte activation in living humans is not possible, however, there is evidence that regional alterations in T2 relaxation times are indicative of astrogliosis. The aim of this study was to use T2 relaxometry to explore regional brain anatomy of the ascending pain pathway in individuals with chronic orofacial neuropathic pain. We found that in individuals with trigeminal neuropathic pain, decreases in T2 relaxation times occurred in the region of the spinal trigeminal nucleus and primary somatosensory cortex, as well as in higher order processing regions such as the dorsolateral prefrontal, cingulate and hippocampal/parahippocampal cortices. We speculate that these regional changes in T2 relaxation times reflect prolonged astrocyte activation, which results in altered brain rhythm and ultimately the constant perception of pain. Blocking prolonged astrocyte activation may be effective in preventing and even reversing the development of chronic pain following neural injury.
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