Subacute Pain after Traumatic Brain Injury Is Associated with Lower Insular N-Acetylaspartate Concentrations

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15 Scopus citations


Persistent pain is experienced by more than 50% of persons who sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and more than 30% experience significant pain as early as 6 weeks after injury. Although neuropathic pain is a common consequence after CNS injuries, little attention has been given to neuropathic pain symptoms after TBI. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) studies in subjects with TBI show decreased brain concentrations of N-acetylaspartate (NAA), a marker of neuronal density and viability. Although decreased brain NAA has been associated with neuropathic pain associated with spinal cord injury (SCI) and diabetes, this relationship has not been examined after TBI. The primary purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that lower NAA concentrations in brain areas involved in pain perception and modulation would be associated with greater severity of neuropathic pain symptoms. Participants with TBI underwent volumetric MRS, pain and psychosocial interviews. Cluster analysis of the Neuropathic Pain Symptom Inventory subscores resulted in two TBI subgroups: The Moderate Neuropathic Pain (n = 17; 37.8%), with significantly (p = 0.038) lower insular NAA than the Low or no Neuropathic Pain group (n = 28; 62.2%), or age- and sex-matched controls (n = 45; p < 0.001). A hierarchical linear regression analysis controlling for age, sex, and time post-TBI showed that pain severity was significantly (F = 11.0; p < 0.001) predicted by a combination of lower insular NAA/Creatine (p < 0.001), lower right insular gray matter fractional volume (p < 0.001), female sex (p = 0.005), and older age (p = 0.039). These findings suggest that neuronal dysfunction in brain areas involved in pain processing is associated with pain after TBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1380-1389
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2016


  • Biomarkers
  • Central pain
  • MRI spectroscopy
  • N-acetylaspartate
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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