Mutual interaction between motor cortex activation and pain in fibromyalgia: EEG-fNIRS study

PLoS One. 2020 Jan 23;15(1):e0228158. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228158. eCollection 2020.


Background: Experimental and clinical studies suggested an analgesic effect on chronic pain by motor cortex activation. The present study explored the complex mechanisms of interaction between motor and pain during performing the slow and fast finger tapping task alone and in concomitant with nociceptive laser stimulation.

Method: The participants were 38 patients with fibromyalgia (FM) and 21 healthy subjects. We used a simultaneous multimodal method of laser-evoked potentials and functional near-infrared spectroscopy to investigate metabolic and electrical changes during the finger tapping task and concomitant noxious laser stimulation. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy is a portable and optical method to detect cortical metabolic changes. Laser-evoked potentials are a suitable tool to study the nociceptive pathways function.

Results: We found a reduced tone of cortical motor areas in patients with FM compared to controls, especially during the fast finger tapping task. FM patients presented a slow motor performance in all the experimental conditions, requesting rapid movements. The amplitude of laser evoked potentials was different between patients and controls, in each experimental condition, as patients showed smaller evoked responses compared to controls. Concurrent phasic pain stimulation had a low effect on motor cortex metabolism in both groups nor motor activity changed laser evoked responses in a relevant way. There were no correlations between Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (FNIRS) and clinical features in FM patients.

Conclusion: Our findings indicated that a low tone of motor cortex activation could be an intrinsic feature in FM and generate a scarce modulation on pain condition. A simple and repetitive movement such as that of the finger tapping task seems inefficacious in modulating cortical responses to pain both in patients and controls. The complex mechanisms of interaction between networks involved in pain control and motor function require further studies for the important role they play in structuring rehabilitation strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Pain / complications*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared*

Grants and funding

The study was supported by Bari Aldo Moro University Research funds. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.