Little is known about the effect of migraine on neural cognitive networks. However, cognitive dysfunction is increasingly being recognized as a comorbidity of chronic pain. Pain appears to affect cognitive ability and the function of cognitive networks over time, and decrements in cognitive function can exacerbate affective and sensory components of pain. We investigated differences in cognitive processing and pain-cognition interactions between 14 migraine patients and 14 matched healthy controls using an fMRI block-design with two levels of task difficulty and concurrent heat (painful and not painful) stimuli. Across groups, cognitive networks were recruited in response to a difficult cognitive task, and a pain-task interaction was found in the right (contralateral to pain stimulus) posterior insula (pINS), such that activity was modulated by decreasing the thermal pain stimulus or by engaging the difficult cognitive task. Migraine patients had less task-related deactivation within the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and left dorsal anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) compared to controls. These regions have been reported to have decreased cortical thickness and cognitive-related deactivation within other pain populations, and are also associated with pain regulation, suggesting that the current findings may reflect altered cognitive function and top-down regulation of pain. During pain conditions, patients had decreased task-related activity, but more widespread task-related reductions in pain-related activity, compared to controls, suggesting cognitive resources may be diverted from task-related to pain-reduction-related processes in migraine. Overall, these findings suggest that migraine is associated with altered cognitive-related neural activity, which may reflect altered pain regulatory processes as well as broader functional restructuring.
Keywords: Chronic pain; Cognitive networks; Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; Pain–cognition interaction; Posterior insula; fMRI.