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This article is the author's final published version in Neurotrauma Reports, Volume 5, Issue 1, January 2024, Pages 16 - 27.

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Copyright © Shreya Mandloi et al., 2024


The great majority of spinal cord injury (SCI) patients have debilitating chronic pain. Despite decades of research, these pain pathways of neuropathic pain (NP) are unknown. SCI patients have been shown to have abnormal brain pain pathways. We hypothesize that SCI NP patients’ pain matrix is altered compared to SCI patients without NP. This study examines the functional connectivity (FC) in SCI patients with moderate-severe chronic NP compared to SCI patients with mild-no NP. These groups were compared to control subjects. The Neuropathic Pain Questionnaire and neurological evaluation based on the International Standard Neurological Classification of SCI were utilized to define the severity and level of injury. Of the 10 SCI patients, 7 (48.6 ± 17.02 years old, 6 male and 1 female) indicated that they had NP and 3 did not have NP (39.33 ± 8.08 years old, 2 male and 1 female). Ten uninjured neurologically intact participants were used as controls (24.8 ± 4.61 years old, 5 male and 5 female). FC metrics were obtained from the comparisons of resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging among our various groups (controls, SCI with NP, and SCI without NP). For each comparison, a region-of-interest (ROI)-to-ROI connectivity analysis was pursued, encompassing a total of 175 ROIs based on a customized atlas derived from the AAL3 atlas. The analysis accounted for covariates such as age and sex. To correct for multiple comparisons, a strict Bonferroni correction was applied with a significance level of p < 0.05/NROIs. When comparing SCI patients with moderate-to-severe pain to those with mild-to-no pain, specific thalamic nuclei had altered connections. These nuclei included: medial pulvinar; lateral pulvinar; medial geniculate nucleus; lateral geniculate nucleus; and mediodorsal magnocellular nucleus. There was increased FC between the lateral geniculate nucleus and the anteroventral nucleus in NP post-SCI. Our analysis additionally highlights the relationships between the frontal lobe and temporal lobe with pain. This study successfully identifies thalamic neuroplastic changes that occur in patients with SCI who develop NP. It additionally underscores the pain matrix and involvement of the frontal and temporal lobes as well. Our findings complement that the development of NP post-SCI involves cognitive, emotional, and behavioral influences.

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