Affective components and intensity of pain correlate with structural differences in gray matter in chronic back pain patients

Pain. 2006 Nov;125(1-2):89-97. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2006.05.004. Epub 2006 Jun 5.


Although chronic back pain is one of the most frequent reasons for permanent impairment in people under 65, the neurobiological mechanisms of chronification remain vague. Evidence suggests that cortical reorganisation, so-called functional plasticity, may play a role in chronic back pain patients. In the search for the structural counterpart of such functional changes in the CNS, we examined 18 patients suffering from chronic back pain with voxel-based morphometry and compared them to 18 sex and age matched healthy controls. We found a significant decrease of gray matter in the brainstem and the somatosensory cortex. Correlation analysis of pain unpleasantness and the intensity of pain on the day of scanning revealed a strong negative correlation (i.e. a decrease in gray matter with increasing unpleasantness/increasing intensity of pain) in these areas. Additionally, we found a significant increase in gray matter bilaterally in the basal ganglia and the left thalamus. These data support the hypothesis that ongoing nociception is associated with cortical and subcortical reorganisation on a structural level, which may play an important role in the process of the chronification of pain.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Back Pain / pathology*
  • Back Pain / psychology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Statistics as Topic