Primary somatosensory/motor cortical thickness distinguishes paresthesia-dominant from pain-dominant carpal tunnel syndrome

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Abstract

Paresthesia-dominant and pain-dominant subgroups have been noted in carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a peripheral neuropathic disorder characterized by altered primary somatosensory/motor (S1/M1) physiology. We aimed to investigate whether brain morphometry dissociates these subgroups. Subjects with CTS were evaluated with nerve conduction studies, whereas symptom severity ratings were used to allocate subjects into paresthesia-dominant (CTS-paresthesia), pain-dominant (CTS-pain), and pain/paresthesia nondominant (not included in further analysis) subgroups. Structural brain magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired at 3T using a multiecho MPRAGE T1-weighted pulse sequence, and gray matter cortical thickness was calculated across the entire brain using validated, automated methods. CTS-paresthesia subjects demonstrated reduced median sensory nerve conduction velocity (P = 0.05) compared with CTS-pain subjects. In addition, cortical thickness in precentral and postcentral gyri (S1/M1 hand area) contralateral to the more affected hand was significantly reduced in CTS-paresthesia subgroup compared with CTS-pain subgroup. Moreover, in CTS-paresthesia subjects, precentral cortical thickness was negatively correlated with paresthesia severity (r(34) = −0.40, P = 0.016) and positively correlated with median nerve sensory velocity (r(36) = 0.51, P = 0.001), but not with pain severity. Conversely, in CTS-pain subjects, contralesional S1 (r(9) = 0.62, P = 0.042) and M1 (r(9) = 0.61, P = 0.046) cortical thickness were correlated with pain severity, but not median nerve velocity or paresthesia severity. This double dissociation in somatotopically specific S1/M1 areas suggests a neuroanatomical substrate for symptom-based CTS subgroups. Such fine-grained subgrouping of CTS may lead to improved personalized therapeutic approaches, based on superior characterization of the linkage between peripheral and central neuroplasticity.

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