Disrupted cognition and chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) are prevalent experiences among Gulf War Veterans (GWV). A negative association between CMP and cognition (i.e., chronic pain-related cognitive interference) has been observed in some chronic pain populations but has not been evaluated in GWV. Additional research suggests that disrupted cognition in GWV with CMP may be exacerbated by stressing the nociceptive system. Therefore, we compared cognitive performance and related neural activity between CMP and healthy control (CO) GWV in the absence and presence of experimental pain.
During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Veterans (CMP = 29; CO = 27) completed cognitive testing via congruent and incongruent conditions of a modified Stroop task (Stroop-only). A random subset (CMP = 13; CO = 13) also completed cognitive testing with experimental pain (Pain+Stroop). Yuen’s modified t-test and robust mixed-model analysis of variance (ANOVA) models were used for analyzing cognitive performance data. Independent t-tests and repeated-measures ANOVA models were employed for fMRI data with thresholding for multiple-comparisons (p  320 mm).
Functional MRI analysis revealed significant between-group differences for the incongruent but not congruent-Stroop run. Neither correct responses nor reaction time differed between groups in either Stroop condition (all p ≥ 0.21). Significant group (CMP, CO) by run (Stroop-only, Pain+Stroop) interactions revealed greater neural responses in CMP Veterans during Pain+Stroop runs. No significant interactions were observed for correct responses or reaction time (p ≥ 0.31).
GWV with CMP require a greater amount of neural resources to sustain cognitive performance during nociceptive stress.

Copyright © 2018. Published by Elsevier Inc.