Journal of Anesthesia

, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp 831–843 | Cite as

Suppressed descending pain modulatory and enhanced sensorimotor networks in patients with chronic low back pain

  • Tianjiao Li
  • Shuo Zhang
  • Jiro Kurata
Original Article



Although cerebral structural and functional changes were uncovered by neuroimaging in patients with chronic low back pain (CLBP), their associations remain to be clarified. We co-analyzed anatomical and functional magnetic resonance imaging data in those patients and tested whether cortical gray matter volume changes are associated with altered pain modulatory networks underlying chronification of pain.


In 16 patients with CLBP and 16 heathy controls, we performed functional magnetic resonance imaging during mechanical pain stimulation on the lower back followed by anatomical imaging. We performed voxel-based morphometry and functional connectivity analysis from the seeds with altered gray matter volume, and examined correlations between imaging and psychophysical parameters.


Patients showed decreases in gray matter volume at the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, middle occipital gyrus, and cerebellum, and showed increases at the bilateral primary sensorimotor cortices, left fusiform gyrus, and right cerebellum compared with controls (P < 0.001). Dorsolateral prefrontal and fusiform volumes showed negative associations with affective comorbidity, whereas motor cortex volume with impaired daily activity (P < 0.05). Connectivity was decreased between the cerebellar and limbic, and increased between the bilateral sensorimotor regions (PFDR < 0.05). Higher pain intensity and unpleasantness correlated with enhanced bilateral sensorimotor and dorsolateral–medial prefrontal networks, respectively (P < 0.05).


Patients showed a decreased volume of cortical center for descending pain modulation and an increased volume of sensorimotor network, in association with suppressed descending pain modulatory and cerebellum–limbic networks and enhanced sensorimotor network during pain. Such structural and functional alterations might be part of cerebral pathophysiology of CLBP.


Chronic pain Gray matter volume Functional connectivity Descending pain modulatory network 



This work was funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (JP26460695, 18K08849 to J.K.) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The first author (T.L.) was supported by the Kambayashi Scholarship Foundation and the Otsuka Toshimi Scholarship Foundation. The authors thank Drs. Shin-ichi Konno, Miho Sekiguchi, Yoshitaka Kobayashi, and Yohei Matsuo (Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Fukushima Medical University School of Medicine, Fukushima, Japan) for their collaborated efforts in recruitment of subjects and collection of behavioral and imaging data; Mr. Hidekazu Yamazaki and Ms. Mika Kokubun (Department of Radiology, Southern Tohoku General Hospital, Koriyama, Japan) for their excellent help in MRI procedures; Drs. Koshi Makita, Hiroyuki Kobinata, and Eri Ikeda (Department of Anesthesiology, Tokyo Medical and Dental University Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, Tokyo, Japan) for their support of the present study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnesthesiologyTokyo Medical and Dental University Graduate School of Medical and Dental SciencesTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Department of Anesthesiology and Pain ClinicTokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital of MedicineTokyoJapan

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