Altered brain structure and function is evident in adults with multisite chronic pain. Although many such adults trace their pain back to childhood, it has been difficult to disentangle whether central nervous system alterations precede or are consequences of chronic pain. If the former is true, aberrant brain activity may identify children vulnerable to developing chronic pain later in life. We examined structural and functional brain magnetic resonance imaging metrics in a subset of children from the first two assessments of the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. Children (ages 9-10) who were pain-free at baseline and then developed multisite pain one year later (n=115) were matched to control children who were pain-free at both timepoints (n=230). We analyzed brain structure (cortical thickness and gray matter volume) and function (spontaneous neural activity and functional connectivity). Results were deemed significant at the cluster level p < 0.05 false discovery rate corrected for multiple comparisons. At baseline, children who subsequently developed multisite pain had increased neural activity in superior parietal/primary somatosensory and motor cortices and decreased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. They also exhibited stronger functional connectivity between the salience network, somatosensory and default mode network regions. No significant differences in brain structure were observed. Increased neural activity and functional connectivity between brain regions, consistent to that seen in adults with chronic pain, exist in children prior to developing multisite pain. These findings may represent a neural vulnerability to developing future chronic pain.
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