Cortical reorganization in primary somatosensory cortex in patients with unilateral chronic pain

J Pain. 2009 Aug;10(8):854-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2009.02.006.


Bodily representations of the primary somatosensory (SI) cortex are constantly modified according to sensory input. Increased input due to training as well as loss of input due to deafferentation are reflected as changes in the extent of cortical representations. Recent studies in complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) patients have indicated that the chronic pain itself is associated with cortical reorganization. However, it is unclear whether the observed reorganization is specific for CRPS or if it can be detected also in other types of chronic pain. We therefore searched for signs of cortical reorganization in a group of 8 patients who suffered from chronic pain associated with herpes simplex virus infections. The pain was widespread but restricted to unilateral side of the body and included the upper limb. We recorded neuromagnetic responses to tactile stimulation of fingers of both hands in patients and in a group of healthy, matched control subjects. In the patients, the distance between the thumb (D1) and little finger (D5) representations in SI cortex was statistically significantly smaller in the hemisphere contralateral to painful side than in the hemisphere contralateral to healthy side. In the control subjects, the D1-D5 distance was the same in both hemispheres.

Perspective: The present results indicate that cortical reorganization occurs in chronic neuropathic pain patients even without peripheral nerve damage. It is possible that cortical reorganization is related to chronic pain, regardless of its etiology. Causality between reorganization and chronic pain should be examined further to develop therapeutic approaches for chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Chronic Disease
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory
  • Female
  • Fingers
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiopathology*