Altered neural responses to heat pain in drug-naive patients with Parkinson disease

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Pain is a frequent but still neglected nonmotor symptom of Parkinson disease (PD). However, neural mechanisms underlying pain in PD are poorly understood. Here, we explored whether the high prevalence of pain in PD might be related to dysfunctional descending pain control. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we explored neural responses during the anticipation and processing of heat pain in 21 PD patients (Hoehn and Yahr I-III) and 23 healthy controls (HC). Parkinson disease patients were naive to dopaminergic medication to avoid confounding drug effects. Fifteen heat pain stimuli were applied to the participants' forearm. Intensity and unpleasantness ratings were provided for each stimulus. Subjective pain perception was comparable for PD patients and HC. Neural processing, however, differed between groups: PD patients showed lower activity in several descending pain modulation regions (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex [dACC], subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]) and lower functional connectivity between dACC and DLPFC during pain anticipation. Parkinson disease symptom severity was negatively correlated with dACC-DLPFC connectivity indicating impaired functional coupling of pain modulatory regions with disease progression. During pain perception PD patients showed higher midcingulate cortex activity compared with HC, which also scaled with PD severity. Interestingly, dACC-DLPFC connectivity during pain anticipation was negatively associated with midcingulate cortex activity during the receipt of pain in PD patients. This study indicates altered neural processing during the anticipation and receipt of experimental pain in drug-naive PD patients. It provides first evidence for a progressive decline in descending pain modulation in PD, which might be related to the high prevalence of pain in later stages of PD.

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