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Transcriptional and cellular signatures of cortical morphometric remodelling in chronic pain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalPain
Early online date23 Sep 2021
DOIs
Accepted/In press2021
E-pub ahead of print23 Sep 2021

King's Authors

Abstract

ABSTRACT: Chronic pain is a highly debilitating and difficult to treat condition, which affects the structure of the brain. While the development of chronic pain is moderately heritable, how disease-related alterations at the microscopic genetic architecture drive macroscopic brain abnormalities is currently largely unknown. Here, we examined alterations in morphometric similarity (MS) and applied an integrative imaging transcriptomics approach to identify transcriptional and cellular correlates of these MS changes, in three independent small cohorts of patients with distinct chronic pain syndromes (knee osteoarthritis, low back pain and fibromyalgia) and age and sex-matched pain-free controls. We uncover a novel pattern of cortical MS remodelling involving mostly small-to-medium MS increases in the insula and limbic cortex (none of these changes survived stringent FDR correction for the number of regions tested). This pattern of changes is different from that observed in patients with major depression and cuts across the boundaries of specific pain syndromes. By leveraging transcriptomic data from Allen Human Brain Atlas, we show that cortical MS remodelling in chronic pain spatially correlates with the brain-wide expression of genes related to pain and broadly involved in the glial immune response and neuronal plasticity. Our findings bridge levels to connect genes, cell classes, and biological pathways to in vivo imaging correlates of chronic pain. Although correlational, our data suggests that cortical remodelling in chronic pain might be shaped by multiple elements of the cellular architecture of the brain and identifies several pathways that could be prioritized in future genetic association or drug development studies.

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