Recent resting-state fMRI studies associated extensive musical training with increased insula-based connectivity in large-scale networks involved in salience, emotion, and higher-order cognitive processes. Similar changes have also been found in chronic pain patients, suggesting that both types of experiences can have comparable effects on insula circuitries. Based on these observations, the current study asked the question whether, and if so in what way, different forms of experience-dependent neuroplasticity may interact. Here we assessed insula-based connectivity during fMRI resting-state between musicians and non-musicians both with and without chronic pain, and correlated the results with clinical pain duration and intensity. As expected, insula connectivity was increased in chronic pain non-musicians relative to healthy non-musicians (with cingulate cortex and supplementary motor area), yet no differences were found between chronic pain non-musicians and healthy musicians. In contrast, musicians with chronic pain showed decreased insula connectivity relative to both healthy musicians (with sensorimotor and memory regions) and chronic pain non-musicians (with the hippocampus, inferior temporal gyrus, and orbitofrontal cortex), as well as lower pain-related inferences with daily activities. Pain duration correlated positively with insula connectivity only in non-musicians, whereas pain intensity exhibited distinct relationships across groups. We conclude that although music-related sensorimotor training and chronic pain, taken in isolation, can lead to increased insula-based connectivity, their combination may lead to higher-order plasticity (metaplasticity) in chronic pain musicians, engaging brain mechanisms that can modulate the consequences of maladaptive experience-dependent neural reorganization (i.e., pain chronification).
- Chronic pain
- Experience-dependent neuroplasticity
- Resting-state fMRI
- Sensorimotor training