Altered central sensitization in subgroups of women with vulvodynia

Clin J Pain. 2011 Nov-Dec;27(9):755-63. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31821c98ec.


Objective: To investigate the clinical correlates of central nervous system alterations among women with vulvodynia. Altered central sensitization has been linked to dysfunction in central nervous system-inhibitory pathways (e.g., γ-aminobutyric acidergic), and metrics of sensory adaptation, a centrally mediated process that is sensitive to this dysfunction, could potentially be used to identify women at risk of treatment failure using conventional approaches.

Methods: Twelve women with vulvodynia and 20 age-matched controls participated in this study, which was conducted by sensory testing of the right hand's index and middle fingers. The following sensory precepts were assessed: (1) vibrotactile detection threshold; (2) amplitude discrimination capacity (defined as the ability to detect differences in intensity of simultaneously delivered stimuli to 2 fingers); and (3) a metric of adaptation (determined by the impact that applying conditioning stimuli have on amplitude discriminative capacity).

Results: Participants did not differ on key demographic variables, vibrotactile detection threshold, and amplitude discrimination capacity. However, we found significant differences from controls in adaptation metrics in 1 subgroup of vulvodynia patients. Compared with healthy controls and women with a shorter history of pain [n=5; duration (y) = 3.4 ± 1.3], those with a longer history [n=7; duration (y) = 9.3 ± 1.4)] were found to be less likely to have adaptation metrics similar to control values.

Discussion: Chronic pain is thought to lead to altered central sensitization, and adaptation is a centrally mediated process that is sensitive to this condition. This report suggests that similar alterations exist in a subgroup of vulvodynia patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Central Nervous System Sensitization / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Vulvodynia / classification
  • Vulvodynia / pathology*
  • Vulvodynia / physiopathology