Background: Patients with chronic pain (CP) are often reported to have deficits in working memory. Pain impairs working memory, but so do depression and sleep problems, which are also common in CP. Depression has been linked to changes in brain activity in CP during working memory tasks, but the effect of sleep problems on working memory performance and brain activity remains to be investigated.
Methods: Fifteen CP patients and 17 age-, sex-, and education-matched controls underwent blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging at 3T while performing block design 0-back, 2-back, and paced visual serial addition test paradigms. Subjects also reported their level of pain (Brief Pain Inventory), depression (Beck Depression Inventory II), and sleep problems (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) and were tested outside the scanner with neuropsychological tests of working memory.
Results: The CP group reported significantly higher levels of pain, depression, and sleep problems. No significant performance difference was found on the neuropsychological tests in or outside the scanner between the two groups. There were no correlations between level of pain, depression, and sleep problems or between these and the neuropsychological test scores. CP patients exhibited significantly less brain activation and deactivation than controls in parietal and frontal lobes, which are the brain areas that normally show activation and deactivation during working memory tasks. Sleep problems independently and significantly modulated the BOLD response to the complex working memory tasks and were associated with decreased brain activation in task-positive regions and decreased deactivation in the default mode network in the CP group compared to the control group. The pain and depression scores covaried with working memory activation.
Discussion: Sleep problems in CP patients had a significant impact on the BOLD response during working memory tasks, independent of pain level and depression, even when performance was shown not to be significantly affected.
This item's license is: Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported