INTRODUCTION: Despite the worldwide increase in prevalence of chronic pain and the subsequent scientific interest, researchers studying the brain and brain mechanisms in pain patients have not yet clearly identified the exact underlying mechanisms. Quantifying the neuronal interactions in electrophysiological data could help us gain insight into the complexity of chronic pain. Therefore, the aim of this study is to examine how different underlying pain states affect the processing of nociceptive information.
METHODS: Twenty healthy participants, 20 patients with non-neuropathic low back-related leg pain and 20 patients with neuropathic failed back surgery syndrome received nociceptive electrical stimulation at the right sural nerve with simultaneous electroencephalographic recordings. Dynamic Causal Modeling (DCM) was used to infer hidden neuronal states within a Bayesian framework.
RESULTS: Pain intensity ratings and stimulus intensity of the nociceptive stimuli did not differ between groups. Compared to healthy participants, both patient groups had the same winning DCM model, with an additional forward and backward connection between the somatosensory cortex and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
DISCUSSION: The additional neuronal connection with the prefrontal cortex as seen in both pain patient groups could be a reflection of the higher attention towards pain in pain patients and might be explained by the higher levels of pain catastrophizing in these patients.
CONCLUSION: In contrast to the similar pain intensity ratings of an acute nociceptive electrical stimulus between pain patients and healthy participants, the brain is processing these stimuli in a different way.