Alpha oscillatory activity (8-13 Hz) is the dominant rhythm in the awake brain and is known to play an important role in pain states. Previous studies have identified alpha band slowing and increased power in the dynamic pain connectome (DPC) of people with chronic neuropathic pain. However, a link between alpha-band abnormalities and sex differences in brain organization in healthy individuals and those with chronic pain is not known. Here, we used resting-state magnetoencephalography to test the hypothesis that peak alpha frequency (PAF) abnormalities are general features across chronic central and peripheral conditions causing neuropathic pain but exhibit sex-specific differences in networks of the DPC (ascending nociceptive pathway [ANP], default mode network, salience network [SN], and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex). We found that neuropathic pain (N = 25 men and 25 women) was associated with increased PAF power in the DPC compared with 50 age- and sex-matched healthy controls, whereas slower PAF in nodes of the SN (temporoparietal junction) and the ANP (posterior insula) was associated with higher trait pain intensity. In the neuropathic pain group, women exhibited lower PAF power in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and faster PAF in the ANP and SN than men. The within-sex analyses indicated that women had neuropathic pain-related increased PAF power in the ANP, SN, and default mode network, whereas men with neuropathic pain had increased PAF power restricted to the ANP. These findings highlight neuropathic pain-related and sex-specific abnormalities in alpha oscillations across the DPC that could underlie aberrant neuronal communication in nociceptive processing and modulation.
Copyright © 2021 International Association for the Study of Pain.