Functional connectivity networks associated with chronic musculoskeletal pain in old age

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;28(8):858-67. doi: 10.1002/gps.3898. Epub 2012 Nov 5.


Objective: Musculoskeletal disorders are common and often lead to chronic pain in older adults. Because the efficacy of interventions varies with the duration of pain, the identification of early biomarkers for chronic pain would have important public health consequences. Imaging of functional connectivity differences between brain regions might identify some of the earliest functional consequences of a disease process. We tested the hypothesis that chronic musculoskeletal pain in older persons is associated with changes in functional brain connectivity.

Method: We used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging and a spherical seed-based region of interest approach to assess functional connectivity of brain regions on a sample of 128 (64 who reported chronic musculoskeletal pain and 64 demographically matched, pain free) nondemented older adults from the Memory and Aging Project, a clinical-pathological cohort study of aging and dementia.

Results: Older adults with chronic pain showed greater functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate and left insula, left superior temporal gyrus, and left cerebellum.

Conclusion: Chronic musculoskeletal pain is associated with a specific pattern of functional connectivity between brain regions among older adults.

Keywords: chronic pain; functional connectivity; insula; posterior cingulate; resting-state fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Chronic Pain / etiology
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / etiology
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / physiopathology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology