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A systematic review of structural and functional MRI studies on pain catastrophizing

Authors Galambos A, Szabó E, Nagy Z, Édes AE, Kocsel N, Juhász G, Kökönyei G

Received 25 October 2018

Accepted for publication 18 February 2019

Published 11 April 2019 Volume 2019:12 Pages 1155—1178


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr E Alfonso Romero-Sandoval

Attila Galambos,1–3 Edina Szabó,1–3 Zita Nagy,2 Andrea Edit Édes,4,5 Natália Kocsel,1,2,4 Gabriella Juhász,4–6 Gyöngyi Kökönyei2,4,5

1Doctoral School of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary; 2Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary; 3MTA-SE Neuropsychopharmacology and Neurochemistry Research Group, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary; 4SE-NAP2 Genetic Brain Imaging Migraine Research Group, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary; 5Department of Pharmacodynamics, Faculty of Pharmacy, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary; 6Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom and Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre, Manchester, United Kingdom

Objectives: Pain catastrophizing is reliably associated with pain reports during experimental pain in healthy, pain-free subjects and in people with chronic pain. It also correlates with self-reports of clinical pain intensity/severity in a variety of disorders characterized by chronic pain in adults, adolescents and children. However, processes, through which it exerts its effects are yet unclear. In this paper, our primary aim was to synthesize neuroimaging research to open a window to possible mechanisms underlying pain catastrophizing in both chronic pain patients and healthy controls. We also aimed to compare whether the neural correlates of pain catastrophizing are similar in these two groups.
Methods: PubMed and the Web of Science were searched for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies that explored neural correlates of pain catastrophizing.
Results: Twenty articles met the inclusion criteria. The results of our review show a connection between pain catastrophizing and brain areas tightly connected to pain perception (including the somatosensory cortices, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex and thalamus) and/or modulation (eg, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). Our results also highlight that these processes - in relation to pain catastrophizing - are more pronounced in chronic pain patients, suggesting that structural and functional brain alterations (and perhaps mechanisms) related to pain catastrophizing may depend on prior and/or relatively stable/constant pain experience. However, we also found methodological issues and differences that could lead to divergent results.
Discussion: Based on our results, pain catastrophizing might be related to salience detection, pain processing, and top-down attentional processes. More research is recommended to explore neural changes to specific types of catastrophizing thoughts (eg, experimentally induced and/or state). Furthermore, we provide ideas regarding pain catastrophizing studies in the future for a more standardized approach.

Keywords: pain catastrophizing, DLPFC, anterior insula, chronic pain, neuroimaging

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