Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a debilitating neurological disease that commonly results from neurovascular compression of the trigeminal nerve (CN V). Although the CN V has been extensively studied at the site of neurovascular compression, many pathophysiological factors remain obscure. For example, thalamic-somatosensory function is thought to be altered in TN, but the abnormalities are inadequately characterized. Furthermore, there are few studies using 7-T MRI to examine patients with TN. The purpose of the present study was to use 7-T MRI to assess microstructural alteration in the thalamic-somatosensory tracts of patients with TN by using ultra–high field MRI.
Ten patients with TN and 10 age- and sex-matched healthy controls underwent scanning using 7-T MRI with diffusion tensor imaging. Structural images were segmented with an automated algorithm to obtain thalamus and primary somatosensory cortex (S1). Probabilistic tractography was performed between the thalamus and S1, and the microstructure of the thalamic-somatosensory tracts was compared between patients with TN and controls.
Fractional anisotropy of the thalamic-somatosensory tract ipsilateral to the site of neurovascular compression was reduced in patients (mean 0.43) compared with side-matched controls (mean 0.47, p = 0.01). The mean diffusivity was increased ipsilaterally in patients (mean 6.58 × 10−4 mm2/second) compared with controls (mean 6.15 × 10−4 mm2/second, p = 0.02). Radial diffusivity was increased ipsilaterally in patients (mean 4.91 × 10−4 mm2/second) compared with controls (mean 4.44 × 10−4 mm2/second, p = 0.01). Topographical analysis revealed fractional anisotropy reduction and diffusivity elevation along the entire anatomical S1 arc in patients with TN.
The present study is the first to examine microstructural properties of the thalamic-somatosensory anatomy in patients with TN and to evaluate quantitative differences compared with healthy controls. The finding of reduced integrity of these white matter fibers provides evidence of microstructural alteration at the level of the thalamus and S1, and furthers the understanding of TN neurobiology.