Objective: To use a combination of magnetic resonance diffusion-tensor imaging (MR-DTI) and MR imaging of voxel-based morphometry (MR-VBM) in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) to determine microstructural and volume changes in the central neuronal networks involved in the sensory-discriminative and affective-motivational characteristics of pain, anxiety, memory, and regulation of the stress response.
Methods: Thirty female patients with FMS and 30 healthy female control subjects were studied. Predefined areas of the brain were measured for volume of gray matter by MR-VBM and for diffusivity and fractional anisotropy (FA) by MR-DTI. Higher FA values and reduced diffusivity are thought to reflect increased complexity of brain-tissue microstructure.
Results: MR-VBM and MR-DTI demonstrated a striking pattern of changes in brain morphology in patients with FMS. Both thalami, the thalamocortical tracts, and both insular regions showed significant decreases in FA. In contrast, increases in FA and decreases in gray matter volume were seen in the postcentral gyri, amygdalae, hippocampi, superior frontal gyri, and anterior cingulate gyri. Increased pain intensity scores were correlated with changes in MR-DTI measurements in the right superior frontal gyrus. Increased fatigue was correlated with changes in the left superior frontal and left anterior cingulate gyrus, and self-perceived physical impairment was correlated with changes in the left postcentral gyrus. Higher intensity scores for stress symptoms were correlated negatively with diffusivity in the thalamus and FA in the left insular cortex. No relationship was found between MR-VBM measurements and symptom intensity scores.
Conclusion: MR-DTI allows the visualization of microstructural changes in the brain of patients with FMS, appears to be more sensitive than MR-VBM, and may serve as an additional diagnostic technique in FMS and probably other dysfunctional pain syndromes.