Intrinsic Network Activity Reflects the Ongoing Experience of Chronic Pain
Jahn P., Deak B., Mayr A., Stankewitz A., Keeser D., Griffanti L., Witkovsky V., Irving S., Schulz E.
Analyses of intrinsic network activity have been instrumental in revealing cortical processes that are altered in chronic pain patients. However, such studies have not accounted for variable time courses of network activity and subjective pain experience. In a novel approach, we aimed to elucidate how intrinsic functional networks evolve in regard to the fluctuating intensity of the experience of chronic pain. In a longitudinal study with 156 fMRI sessions, 20 chronic back pain patients and 20 chronic migraine patients were asked to continuously rate the intensity of their endogenous pain. Using group independent component analysis and dual-regression, we extracted the time courses of 100 independent components separately for chronic back pain and chronic migraine. We investigated the relationship between the fluctuation of intrinsic network activity with the time course of subjective pain ratings. For chronic back pain, we found increased cortical network activity for the salience network and a local pontine network, as well as decreased network activity in the anterior and posterior default mode network for higher pain intensities. Higher pain intensities in chronic migraine were accompanied with lower activity in a prefrontal cortical network. By taking the perspective of the individual, we focused on the processes that matter for each patient, which are phases of relatively low pain and more straining phases of relatively high pain. The present design of ongoing assessment of the endogenous pain can be a powerful and promising tool to assess the signature of a patient’s endogenous pain encoding over weeks and months.