Clas Linnman, Massachusetts General Hospital , Boston, USA

PET-MRI imaging of Microglia and Neuropathic Pain after Spinal Cord Injury

Funded in: 2014, 2015, 2016

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Problem: Spinal cord injury often results in neuropathic pain, which is personally devastating and difficult to treat.

Target: PET-MRI imaging to visualize how pain impacts the brain in patients with spinal cord injuries.

Goal: Monitoring treatment effects/success of neuropthaic pain by PET-MR imaging.


Neuropathic pain is one of the most challenging medical problems following a spinal cord injury, as it is difficult to treat. Neuropathic pain is personally devastating because it significantly impacts rehabilitative efforts, mood and life satisfaction.

Animal studies indicate that microglia, special immune cells of the CNS, are overexpressed in SCI-induced neuropathic pain. Several therapeutic approaches are being developed to target microglial function. A first step in translating these findings to clinical applications is to establish the role of microglia in human neuropathic pain after SCI.

This study aims to characterize structural, functional and neuroinflammatory consequences of neuropathic pain after SCI using simultaneous PET-MRI measurements of the spinal cord and brain. Three groups will be assessed — people with SCI and neuropathic pain, pain-free SCI, and a healthy control group to determine what changes are related to SCI and what changes are pain specific.

PET-MRI metrics of brain and spinal cord structures will be linked to behavioral measures of pain intensity, sensory and emotional aspects of pain, and depression. Providing a more complete clinical picture of neuropathic pain in SCI, PET-MRI can provide new objective endpoints for monitoring treatment success.