Until recently, the predominant pathology of chronic pelvic pain conditions was thought to reside in the peripheral tissues. However, mounting evidence from neuroimaging studies suggests an important role of the central nervous system in the pathogenesis of these conditions. In the present cross-sectional study, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) of the brain was conducted in female patients with urologic chronic pelvic pain syndrome (UCPPS) to determine if they exhibit abnormal concentrations of brain metabolites (e.g. those indicative of heightened excitatory tone) in regions involved in the processing and modulation of pain, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the anterior and posterior insular cortices. Compared to a group of age-matched healthy subjects, there were significantly higher levels of choline (p = 0.006, uncorrected) in the ACC of UCPPS patients. ACC choline levels were therefore compared with the region's resting functional connectivity to the rest of the brain. Higher choline was associated with greater ACC-to-limbic system connectivity in UCPPS patients, contrasted with lower connectivity in controls (i.e. an interaction). In patients, ACC choline levels were also positively correlated with negative mood. ACC γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels were lower in UCPPS patients compared with controls (p = 0.02, uncorrected), but this did not meet statistical correction for the 4 separate regional comparisons of metabolites. These results are the first to uncover abnormal GABA and choline levels in the brain of UCPPS patients compared to controls. Low GABA levels have been identified in other pain syndromes and might contribute to CNS hyper-excitability in these conditions. The relationships between increased ACC choline levels, ACC-to-limbic connectivity, and negative mood in UCPPS patients suggest that this metabolite could be related to the affective symptomatology of this syndrome.
Keywords: Centralized pain; Choline; Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA); Interstitial cystitis; MAPP; Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy.