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Numerous neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that the brain plasticity is associated with chronic low back pain (cLBP). However, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the underlying mechanisms of thalamic pathways for chronic pain and psychological effects in cLBP caused by lumbar disc herniation (LDH). Combining psychophysics and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we investigated the structural and functional brain plasticity in 36 patients with LDH compared with 38 age- and gender-matched healthy controls. We found that (1) LDH patients had increased psychophysical disturbs (i.e., depression and anxiety), and depression (Beck-Depression Inventory, BDI) was found to be an outstanding significant factor to predict chronic pain (short form of the McGill Pain Questionnaire, SF-MPQ); (2) the LDH group showed significantly smaller fractional anisotropy values in the region of posterior corona radiate while gray matter volumes were comparable in both groups; (3) resting state functional connectivity analysis revealed that LDH patients exhibited increased temporal coupling between the thalamus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which further mediate the relationship from chronic pain to depression. Our results emphasized that thalamic pathways underlying prefrontal cortex might play a key role in regulating chronic pain and depression of the pathophysiology of LDH.

Original publication




Journal article


Neural Plast

Publication Date





Adult, Chronic Pain, Depression, Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, Female, Humans, Low Back Pain, Male, Middle Aged, Nerve Net, Pain Measurement, Thalamus, Time Factors