Functional MRI demonstrates pain perception in hand osteoarthritis has features of central pain processing

Nidhi Sofat, Monika Hermansson, Matthew Howard, Emma H Baker, Franklyn A Howe, Thomas R Barrick


Background: Hand osteoarthritis (HOA) is typified by pain and reduced function. We hypothesised that people with HOA have enhanced sensitivity and activation of peripheral nociceptors in the hand, thereby potentiating chronic pain. In our study we aimed to assess if central sensitisation mediates pain perception in osteoarthritis of the hand.

Methods: Participants with proximal and distal interphalangeal joint (PIP/DIP) HOA and non-OA controls were recruited. Clinical pain scores using the visual analogue scale (VAS) were recorded before and after performing a painful hand task. Central pain processing was evaluated with functional brain neuroimaging (fMRI) using a finger flexion-extension
(FFE) task performed over 3 minutes. Data was analysed with FMRIB software ( Group mean activation of functional MRI signal between hand osteoarthritis and control non-arthritic participants was compared.

Results: Our group of hand OA participants reported high pain levels compared with non-arthritic controls as demonstrated by the mean VAS in hand OA participants of 59.31± 8.19 mm compared to 4.00 ± 1.89 mm in controls (p < 0.0001), despite all participants reporting analgesic use. Functional MRI analysis showed increased activation in the thalamus, cingulate, frontal and somatosensory cortex in the hand OA group but not in controls (thresholded at p < 0.05). Regions of activation were mapped to Brodmann areas 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 22, 24 and 44. Activated regions found in our study are recognised higher brain pain processing centres implicated in central sensitisation.

Conclusions: People with hand osteoarthritis demonstrated features of central sensitisation that was evident after a finger flexion-extension task using functional MRI. Functional MRI is a useful biomarker in detecting pain in hand osteoarthritis and could be used in future hand osteoarthritis pain studies to evaluate pain modulation strategies.


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Journal of Biomedical Graphics and Computing    ISSN 1925-4008 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4016 (Online)

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