Cortical dynamics of movement-evoked pain in chronic low back pain

Wei-En Wang  1 Rachel L M Ho  1 Bryan Gatto  2 Susanne M van der Veen  3 Matthew K Underation  3 James S Thomas  3 Ajay B Antony  4 Stephen A Coombes  1

Abstract: Although experimental pain alters neural activity in the cortex, evidence of changes in neural activity in individuals with chronic low back pain (cLBP) remains scarce and results are inconsistent. One of the challenges in studying cLBP is that the clinical pain fluctuates over time and often changes during movement. The goal of the present study was to address this challenge by recording high-density electroencephalography (HD-EEG) data during a full-body reaching task to understand neural activity during movement-evoked pain. HD-EEG data were analysed using independent component analyses, source localization and measure projection analyses to compare neural oscillations between individuals with cLBP who experienced movement-evoked pain and pain-free controls. We report two novel findings. First, movement-evoked pain in individuals with cLBP was associated with longer reaction times, delayed peak velocity and greater movement variability. Second, movement-evoked pain was associated with an attenuated reduction in beta power in the premotor cortex and supplementary motor area. Our observations move the field forward by revealing attenuated disinhibition in prefrontal motor areas during movement-evoked pain in cLBP.

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Free-water in hippocampus is more sensitive than volume

Ofori E1DeKosky ST2Febo M3Colon-Perez L4Chakrabarty P5Duara R6Adjouadi M7Golde TE5Vaillancourt DE8Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

Validating sensitive markers of hippocampal degeneration is fundamental for understanding neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that free-water in the hippocampus will be more sensitive to early stages of cognitive decline than hippocampal volume, and that free-water in hippocampus will increase across distinct clinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease. We examined two separate cohorts (N = 126; N = 112) of cognitively normal controls, early and late mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s disease. Demographic, clinical, diffusion-weighted and T1-weighted imaging, and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging were assessed. Results indicated elevated hippocampal free-water in early MCI individuals compared to controls across both cohorts. In contrast, there was no difference in volume of these regions between controls and early MCI. ADNI free-water values in the hippocampus was associated with low CSF AB1-42 levels and high global amyloid PET values. Free-water imaging of the hippocampus can serve as an early stage marker for AD and provides a complementary measure of AD neurodegeneration using non-invasive imaging.

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New study on DBS in Essential Tremor


Essential tremor (ET) prominently affects the upper-limbs during voluntary movements, but can also affect the lower-limbs, head, and chin. Although deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the ventral intermediate nucleus (VIM) of thalamus improves both clinical ratings and quantitative measures of tremor, no study has quantified effects of DBS on tremor across multiple body parts. Our objective was to quantify therapeutic effects of DBS across multiple body parts in ET.


We performed quantitative assessment of tremor in ET patients who had DBS for at least one year. We assessed tremor on and off VIM-stimulation using triaxial accelerometers on the upper-limbs, lower-limbs, head and chin during seated and standing tasks.


VIM-DBS significantly reduced tremor, but there was no statistical difference in degree of tremor reduction across the measured effectors. Compared to healthy controls, ET patients treated with DBS showed significantly greater tremor power (4-8 Hz) across all effectors during seated and standing tasks.


VIM-DBS reduced tremor in ET patients. There was no significant difference in the degree of tremor reduction across the measured effectors.


This study provides new quantitative evidence that VIM-DBS is effective at reducing tremor across multiple parts of the body.

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NEW Transcallosal Tract Template (TCATT)

Development of a transcallosal tractography template and its application to dementia.

Archer DBCoombes SAMcFarland NRDeKosky STVaillancourt DE


Understanding the architecture of transcallosal connections would allow for more specific assessments of neurodegeneration across many fields of neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. To map these connections, we conducted probabilistic tractography in 100 Human Connectome Project subjects in 32 cortical areas using novel post-processing algorithms to create a spatially precise Trancallosal Tract Template (TCATT). We found robust transcallosal tracts in all 32 regions, and a topographical analysis in the corpus callosum largely agreed with well-established subdivisions of the corpus callosum. We then obtained diffusion MRI data from a cohort of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and another with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and used a two-compartment model to calculate free-water corrected fractional anisotropy (FAT) and free-water (FW) within the TCATT. These metrics were used to determine between-group differences and to determine which subset of tracts was best associated with cognitive function (Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA)). In AD, we found robust between-group differences in FW (31/32 TCATT tracts) in the absence of between-group differences in FAT. FW in the inferior temporal gyrus TCATT tract was most associated with MoCA scores in AD. In PSP, there were widespread differences in both FAT and FW, and MoCA was predicted by FAT in the inferior frontal pars triangularis, preSMA, and medial frontal gyrus TCATT tracts as well as FW in the inferior frontal pars opercularis TCATT tract. The TCATT improves spatial localization of corpus callosum measurements to enhance the evaluation of treatment effects, as well as the monitoring of brain microstructure in relation to cognitive dysfunction and disease progression. Here, we have shown its direct relevance in capturing between-group differences and associating it with the MoCA in AD and PSP.

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New article in PAIN – Functional Imaging in Chronic Pain

Link to site

Functional brain activity during motor control and pain processing in chronic jaw pain

Roy, Arnaba; Wang, Wei-en; Ho, Rachel L.M.; Ribeiro-Dasilva, Margarete C.; Fillingim, Roger B; Coombes, Stephen A.

Changes in brain function in chronic pain have been studied using paradigms that deliver acute pain-eliciting stimuli or assess the brain at rest. Although motor disability accompanies many chronic pain conditions, few studies have directly assessed brain activity during motor function in individuals with chronic pain. Using chronic jaw pain as a model, we assessed brain activity during a precisely controlled grip force task and during a precisely controlled pain-eliciting stimulus on the forearm. We used multivariate analyses to identify regions across the brain whose activity together best separated the groups. We report 2 novel findings. First, although the parameters of grip force production were similar between the groups, the functional activity in regions including the prefrontal cortex, insula, and thalamus best separated the groups. Second, although stimulus intensity and pain perception were similar between the groups, functional activity in brain regions including the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, rostral ventral premotor cortex, and inferior parietal lobule best separated the groups. Our observations suggest that chronic jaw pain is associated with changes in how the brain processes motor and pain-related information even when the effector producing the force or experiencing the pain-eliciting stimulus is distant from the jaw. We also demonstrate that motor tasks and multivariate analyses offer alternative approaches for studying brain function in chronic jaw pain.

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Biomarkers in Parkinson’s – Science Trans Med

Biomarkers Perspective Published in Science Translational Medicine



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Beta Band EEG Relates to Putamen fMRI in Parkinson

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We investigated the effect of acute levodopa administration on movement-related cortical oscillations and movement velocity in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Patients with PD on and off medication and age- and sex-matched healthy controls performed a ballistic upper limb flexion movement as fast and accurately as possible while cortical oscillations were recorded with high-density electroencephalography. Patients off medication were also studied using task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using a force control paradigm. Percent signal change of functional activity during the force control task was calculated for the putamen and subthalamic nucleus (STN) contralateral to the hand tested. We found that Patients with PD off medication had an exaggerated movement-related beta-band (13–30 Hz) desynchronization in the supplementary motor area (SMA) compared to controls. In PD, spectral power in the beta-band was correlated with movement velocity. Following an acute dose of levodopa, we observed that the beta-band desynchronization in the SMA was reduced in PD, and was associated with increased movement velocity and increased voltage of agonist muscle activity. Further, using fMRI we found that the functional activity in the putamen and STN in the off medication state, was related to how responsive that cortical oscillations in the SMA of PD were to levodopa. Collectively, these findings provide the first direct evaluation of how movement-related cortical oscillations relate to movement velocity during the ballistic phase of movement in PD and demonstrate that functional brain activity in the basal ganglia pathways relate to the effects of dopaminergic medication on cortical neuronal oscillations during movement.

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Recruiting PhD Students 2018

We are actively recruiting PhD students for the Fall 2018 semester. We use a range of systems neuroscience techniques that include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), structural MRI, diffusion imaging (DTI), electromyography (EMG), high-density electroencephalography (EEG), and pain stimulation procedures. Incoming students will work on neuroimaging studies of motor and sensory function. Projects related to human and rodent imaging are ongoing. Tuition waiver and stipend support is available through fellowships and teaching assistantships in the department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology and T32 Training Grant in Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration. Please send vita or inquiries to either David Vaillancourt at or Steve Coombes at

Information about our Ph.D. Program can be found here:

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NIH Press Release

Press Release Here

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Validated Progression Marker of Parkinson’s Disease

Article here


Progression markers of Parkinson’s disease are crucial for successful therapeutic development. Recently, a diffusion magnetic resonance imaging analysis technique using a bitensor model was introduced allowing the estimation of the fractional volume of free water within a voxel, which is expected to increase in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Prior work demonstrated that free water in the posterior substantia nigra was elevated in Parkinson’s disease compared to controls across single- and multi-site cohorts, and increased over 1 year in Parkinson’s disease but not in controls at a single site. Here, the goal was to validate free water in the posterior substantia nigra as a progression marker in Parkinson’s disease, and describe the pattern of progression of free water in patients with a 4-year follow-up tested in a multicentre international longitudinal study of de novo Parkinson’s disease ( The analyses examined: (i) 1-year changes in free water in 103 de novo patients with Parkinson’s disease and 49 controls; (ii) 2- and 4-year changes in free water in a subset of 46 patients with Parkinson’s disease imaged at baseline, 12, 24, and 48 months; (iii) whether 1- and 2-year changes in free water predict 4-year changes in the Hoehn and Yahr scale; and (iv) the relationship between 4-year changes in free water and striatal binding ratio in a subgroup of Parkinson’s disease who had undergone both diffusion and dopamine transporter imaging. Results demonstrated that: (i) free water level in the posterior substantia nigra increased over 1 year in de novo Parkinson’s disease but not in controls; (ii) free water kept increasing over 4 years in Parkinson’s disease; (iii) sex and baseline free water predicted 4-year changes in free water; (iv) free water increases over 1 and 2 years were related to worsening on the Hoehn and Yahr scale over 4 years; and (v) the 4-year increase in free water was associated with the 4-year decrease in striatal binding ratio in the putamen. Importantly, all longitudinal results were consistent across sites. In summary, this study demonstrates an increase over 1 year in free water in the posterior substantia nigra in a large cohort of de novo patients with Parkinson’s disease from a multi-site cohort study and no change in healthy controls, and further demonstrates an increase of free water in Parkinson’s disease over the course of 4 years. A key finding was that results are consistent across sites and the 1-year and 2-year increase in free water in the posterior substantia nigra predicts subsequent long-term progression on the Hoehn and Yahr staging system. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that free water in the posterior substantia nigra is a valid, progression imaging marker of Parkinson’s disease, which may be used in clinical trials of disease-modifying therapies.

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