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Pupillary reflexes in complex regional pain syndrome: Asymmetry to arousal stimuli suggests an ipsilateral locus coeruleus deficit

Drummond, P.D.ORCID: 0000-0002-3711-8737 and Finch, P.M.ORCID: 0000-0002-2717-054X (2021) Pupillary reflexes in complex regional pain syndrome: Asymmetry to arousal stimuli suggests an ipsilateral locus coeruleus deficit. The Journal of Pain, 23 (1). pp. 131-140.

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Converging lines of evidence suggest that autonomic and nociceptive pathways linked with the locus coeruleus are disrupted in complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). To investigate this, pupillary dilatation to arousal stimuli (which reflects neural activity in the locus coeruleus) and pupillary reflexes to light were assessed in a cross-sectional study of 33 patients with CRPS. Moderately painful electrical shocks were delivered to the affected or contralateral limb and unilateral 110 dB SPL acoustic startle stimuli were delivered via headphones. To determine whether the acoustic startle stimuli inhibited shock-induced pain, startle stimuli were also administered bilaterally 200 ms before or after the electric shock. The pupils constricted briskly and symmetrically to bright light (500 lux) and dilated symmetrically in dim light (5 lux). However, the pupil on the CRPS-affected side was smaller than the contralateral pupil before and after the delivery of painless and painful arousal stimuli. Auditory sensitivity was greater on the affected than unaffected side but acoustic startle stimuli failed to inhibit shock-induced pain. Together, these findings suggest that neural activity in pathways linked with the locus coeruleus is compromised on the affected side in patients with CRPS. This may contribute to autonomic disturbances, auditory discomfort and pain.

Perspective: The locus coeruleus is involved not only in modulation of pain but also regulates sensory traffic more broadly. Hence, fatigue of neural activity in the ipsilateral locus coeruleus might not only exacerbate pain and hyperalgesia in CRPS but could also contribute more generally to hemilateral disturbances in sensory processing.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Psychology, Counselling, Exercise Science and Chiropractic
Centre for Healthy Ageing
Publisher: Elsevier
Copyright: © 2021 by United States Association for the Study of Pain, Inc.
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