Somatosensory functional MRI tractography for individualized targeting of deep brain stimulation in patients with chronic pain after brachial plexus injury

Acta Neurochirurgica (2019) 161:2485–2490

The optimal targets for deep brain stimulation (DBS) in patients with refractory chronic pain are not clearly defined. We applied sensory functional MRI (fMRI)- and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)-based DBS in chronic pain patients into 3 different targets to ascertain the most beneficial individual stimulation site.

Methods Three patients with incapacitating chronic pain underwent DBS into 3 targets (periventricular gray (PVG), ventroposterolateral thalamus (VPL), and posterior limb of the internal capsule according to fMRI and DTI (PLIC). The electrodes were externalized and double-blinded tested for several days. Finally, the two electrodes with the best pain reduction were kept for permanent stimulation. The patients were then followed up for 12 months. Outcome measures comprised the numerical rating scale (NRS), short-form McGill’s score (SF-MPQ), and health-related quality of life (SF-36).

Results Continuous pain (mean NRS 6.6) was reduced to NRS 3.6 after 12 months. Only with stimulation of the PLIC pain attacks, that occurred at least 3 times a week (mean NRS 9.6) resolved in 2 patients and improved in one patient concerning both intensity (NRS 5) and frequency (twice a month). The mean SF-MPQ decreased from 92.7 to 50. The health-related quality of life improved considerably.

Conclusion fMRI- and DTI-based DBS to the PLIC was the only target with a significant effect on pain attacks and seems to be the most promising target in chronic pain patients after brachial plexus injury. The combination with PVG or VPL can further improve patients’ outcome especially in terms of reducing the continuous pain.