Granger causality analysis of rat cortical functional connectivity in pain

J Neural Eng. 2020 Feb 7;17(1):016050. doi: 10.1088/1741-2552/ab6cba.


Objective: The primary somatosensory cortex (S1) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are two of the most important cortical brain regions encoding the sensory-discriminative and affective-emotional aspects of pain, respectively. However, the functional connectivity of these two areas during pain processing remains unclear. Developing methods to dissect the functional connectivity and directed information flow between cortical pain circuits can reveal insight into neural mechanisms of pain perception.

Approach: We recorded multichannel local field potentials (LFPs) from the S1 and ACC in freely behaving rats under various conditions of pain stimulus (thermal versus mechanical) and pain state (naive versus chronic pain). We applied Granger causality (GC) analysis to the LFP recordings and inferred frequency-dependent GC statistics between the S1 and ACC.

Main results: We found an increased information flow during noxious pain stimulus presentation in both S1[Formula: see text]ACC and ACC[Formula: see text]S1 directions, especially at theta and gamma frequency bands. Similar results were found for thermal and mechanical pain stimuli. The chronic pain state shares common observations, except for further elevated GC measures especially in the gamma band. Furthermore, time-varying GC analysis revealed a negative correlation between the direction-specific and frequency-dependent GC and animal's paw withdrawal latency. In addition, we used computer simulations to investigate the impact of model mismatch, noise, missing variables, and common input on the conditional GC estimate. We also compared the GC results with the transfer entropy (TE) estimates.

Significance: Our results reveal functional connectivity and directed information flow between the S1 and ACC during various pain conditions. The dynamic GC analysis support the hypothesis of cortico-cortical information loop in pain perception, consistent with the computational predictive coding paradigm.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Causality
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*