Pain and Neuroinflammation Imaging Lab

Aberrant Salience? Brain Hyperactivation in Response to Pain Onset and Offset in Fibromyalgia


Hubbard, C.S., et al., 2020. Aberrant Salience? Brain Hyperactivation in Response to Pain Onset and Offset in Fibromyalgia. Arthritis Rheumatol , 72 (7) , pp. 1203-1213.

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Date Published:

2020 07


OBJECTIVE: While much brain research on fibromyalgia (FM) focuses on the study of hyperresponsiveness to painful stimuli, some studies suggest that the increased pain-related brain activity often reported in FM studies may be partially explained by stronger responses to salient aspects of the stimulation rather than, or in addition to, the stimulation’s painfulness. Therefore, this study was undertaken to test our hypothesis that FM patients would demonstrate elevated brain responses to both pain onset and offset-2 salient sensory events of opposing valences. METHODS: Thirty-eight FM patients (mean ± SD age 46.1 ± 13.4 years; 33 women) and 15 healthy controls (mean ± SD age 45.5 ± 12.4; 10 women) received a moderately painful pressure stimulus to the leg during blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging. Stimulus onset and offset transients were analyzed using a general linear model as stick functions. RESULTS: During pain onset, higher BOLD signal response was observed in FM patients compared to healthy controls in dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices (DLPFC and VLPFC, respectively), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), frontal pole, and precentral gyrus (PrCG). During pain offset, higher and more widespread BOLD signal response was demonstrated in FM patients compared to controls in frontal regions significantly hyperactivated in response to onset. In FM patients, some of these responses were positively correlated with pain unpleasantness ratings (VLPFC, onset; r = 0.35, P = 0.03), pain catastrophizing scores (DLPFC, offset; r = 0.33, P = 0.04), or negatively correlated with stimulus intensity (OFC, offset; r = -0.35, P = 0.03) (PrCG, offset; r = -0.39, P = 0.02). CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that the increased sensitivity exhibited by FM patients in response to the onset and offset of painful stimuli may reflect a more generalized hypersensitivity to salient sensory events, and that brain hyperactivation may be a mechanism potentially involved in the generalized hypervigilance to salient stimuli in FM.

Last updated on 02/24/2022