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Pain-related fear - Dissociable neural sources of different fear constructs

By ML Meier, Andrea Vrana, Barry Kim Humphreys, Erich Seifritz, Philipp Stämpfli, Petra Schweinhardt

Posted 25 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/251751 (published DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0107-18.2018)

Fear of pain demonstrates significant prognostic value regarding the development of persistent musculoskeletal pain and disability. Its assessment often relies on self-report measures of pain-related fear by a variety of questionnaires. However, based either on "fear of movement/(re)injury/kinesiophobia", "fear avoidance beliefs" or "pain anxiety", pain-related fear constructs seemingly differ while the potential overlap of the questionnaires is unclear. Furthermore, the relationship to other anxiety measures such as state or trait anxiety remains ambiguous.Because the neural bases of fearful and anxious states are well described, advances in neuroimaging such as machine learning on brain activity patterns recorded by functional magnetic resonance imaging might help to dissect commonalities or differences across pain-related fear constructs. We applied a pattern regression approach in 20 non-specific chronic low back pain patients to reveal predictive relationships between fear-related neural information and different pain-related fear questionnaires. More specifically, the applied Multiple Kernel Learning approach allowed generating models to predict the questionnaire scores based on a hierarchical ranking of fear-related neural patterns induced by viewing videos of potentially harmful activities for the back. We sought to find evidence for or against overlapping pain-related fear constructs by comparing the questionnaire prediction models according to their predictive abilities and associated neural contributors. The results underpin the diversity of pain-related fear constructs by demonstrating evidence of non-overlapping neural predictors within fear processing regions. This neuroscientific approach might ultimately help to further understand and dissect psychological pain-related fear constructs.

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