White matter brain and trigeminal nerve abnormalities in temporomandibular disorder

Pain. 2012 Jul;153(7):1467-1477. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.04.003. Epub 2012 May 28.


Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a prevalent chronic pain disorder that remains poorly understood. Recent imaging studies reported functional and gray matter abnormalities in brain areas implicated in sensorimotor, modulatory, and cognitive function in TMD, but it is not known whether there are white matter (WM) abnormalities along the trigeminal nerve (CNV) or in the brain. Here, we used diffusion tensor imaging, and found that, compared to healthy controls, TMD patients had 1) lower fractional anisotropy (FA) in both CNVs; 2) a negative correlation between FA of the right CNV and pain duration; and 3) diffuse abnormalities in the microstructure of WM tracts related to sensory, motor, cognitive, and pain functions, with a highly significant focal abnormality in the corpus callosum. Using probabilistic tractography, we found that the corpus callosum in patients had a higher connection probability to the frontal pole, and a lower connection probability to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, compared to controls. Finally, we found that 1) FA in tracts adjacent to the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and tracts coursing through the thalamus negatively correlated with pain intensity; 2) FA in the internal capsule negatively correlated with pain intensity and unpleasantness; and 3) decreases in brain FA were associated with increases in mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity, markers of inflammation and oedema. These data provide novel evidence for CNV microstructural abnormalities that may be caused by increased nociceptive activity, accompanied by abnormalities along central WM pathways in TMD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders / pathology
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / pathology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiopathology*