A meta-analytic study of experimental and chronic orofacial pain excluding headache disorders

Neuroimage Clin. 2018;20:901-912. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.09.018. Epub 2018 Sep 25.


Chronic orofacial pain (COFP) disorders are prevalent and debilitating pain conditions affecting the head, neck and face areas. Neuroimaging studies have reported functional and grey matter abnormalities, but not all the studies have reported consistent findings. Identifying convergent abnormalities across COFPs provides a basis for future hypothesis-driven research aimed at elucidating common CNS mechanisms. Here, we perform three coordinate-based meta-analyses according to PRISMA guidelines to elucidate the central mechanisms of orofacial pain disorders. Specifically, we investigated consistent patterns of: (1) brain function to experimental orofacial pain in healthy subjects, (2) structural and (3) functional brain abnormalities in COFP. We computed our coordinate-based meta-analyses using GingerALE. The experimental pain meta-analysis revealed increased brain activity in bilateral thalami, posterior mid-cingulate cortices, and secondary somatosensory cortices, the right posterior parietal cortex extending to the orofacial region of the right primary somatosensory cortex and the right insula, and decreased activity in the right somatomotor regions. The structural COFP meta-analysis identified consistent higher grey matter volume/concentration in the right ventral thalamus and posterior putamen of COFP patients compared to healthy controls. The functional COFP meta-analysis identified a consistent increase in brain activity in the left medial and posterior thalamus and lesser activity in the left posterior insula in COFP, compared to healthy controls. Overall, these findings provide evidence of brain abnormalities in pain-related regions, namely the thalamus and insula, across different COFP disorders. The convergence of thalamic abnormalities in both structure and function suggest a key role for this region in COFP pathophysiology.

Keywords: Brain; Facial pain; Grey matter volume; MRI; Orofacial pain; Pain; Plasticity; Trigeminal; VBM; fMRI; sMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Facial Pain / diagnosis
  • Facial Pain / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / physiopathology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Headache Disorders / diagnosis
  • Headache Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Parietal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Thalamus / physiopathology