#CRPS Research Update

Dear Readers,

Welcome back to the blog. Here is a summary of some of the recent research.

Neurology. 2011 Aug 31.

Bilateral somatosensory cortex disinhibition in complex regional pain syndrome type I.


From the Departments of Neurology (M.L., O.H., P.S., S.L., P.S., M.T.) and Pain Management (A.R., J.F., H.R., C.M.), Berufsgenossenschaftliches Universitätsklinikum Bergmannsheil GmbH, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany.



In a previous study, we found bilateral disinhibition in the motor cortex of patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This finding suggests a complex dysfunction of central motor-sensory circuits. The aim of our present study was to assess possible bilateral excitability changes in the somatosensory system of patients with CRPS.


We measured paired-pulse suppression of somatosensory evoked potentials in 21 patients with unilateral CRPS I involving the hand. Eleven patients with upper limb pain of non-neuropathic origin and 21 healthy subjects served as controls. Innocuous paired-pulse stimulation of the median nerve was either performed at the affected and the unaffected hand, or at the dominant hand of healthy controls, respectively.


We found a significant reduction of paired-pulse suppression in both sides of patients with CRPS, compared with control patients and healthy control subjects.


These findings resemble our findings in the motor system and strongly support the hypothesis of a bilateral complex impairment of central motor-sensory circuits in CRPS I.


Eur J Pain. 2011 Aug 6. [Epub ahead of print]

Enhanced pain and autonomic responses to ambiguous visual stimuli in chronic Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) type I.


Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Upper Borough Walls, Bath BA1 1RL, UK; University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK; Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Brockley Hill, Stanmore HA7 4LP,UK.


Cortical reorganisation of sensory, motor and autonomic systems can lead to dysfunctional central integrative control. This may contribute to signs and symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), including pain. It has been hypothesised that central neuroplastic changes may cause afferent sensory feedback conflicts and produce pain. We investigated autonomic responses produced by ambiguous visual stimuli (AVS) in CRPS, and their relationship to pain. Thirty CRPS patients with upper limb involvement and 30 age and sex matched healthy controls had sympathetic autonomic function assessed using laser Doppler flowmetry of the finger pulp at baseline and while viewing a control figure or AVS. Compared to controls, there were diminished vasoconstrictor responses and a significant difference in the ratio of response between affected and unaffected limbs (symmetry ratio) to a deep breath and viewing AVS. While viewing visual stimuli, 33.5% of patients had asymmetric vasomotor responses and all healthy controls had a homologous symmetric pattern of response. Nineteen (61%) CRPS patients had enhanced pain within seconds of viewing the AVS. All the asymmetric vasomotor responses were in this group, and were not predictable from baseline autonomic function. Ten patients had accompanying dystonic reactions in their affected limb: 50% were in the asymmetric sub-group. In conclusion, there is a group of CRPS patients that demonstrate abnormal pain networks interacting with central somatomotor and autonomic integrational pathways.


Pain. 2009 Jun;143(3):246-51. Epub 2009 Apr 16.

Autoantibodies in complex regional pain syndrome bind to a differentiation-dependent neuronal surface autoantigen.


Dept. of Neurology, Justus-Liebig-University, Am Steg 14, 35392 Giessen, Germany.


Complex regional pain syndrome, which is characterised by pain and trophic disturbances, develops frequently after peripheral limb trauma. There is an increasing evidence of an involvement of the immune system in CRPS, and recently we showed that CRPS patients have autoantibodies against nervous system structures. Therefore we tested the sera of CRPS patients, neuropathy patients and healthy volunteers for surface-binding autoantibodies to primary cultures of autonomic neurons and differentiated neuroblastoma cell lines using flow cytometry. Thirteen of 30 CRPS patients, but none of 30 healthy controls and only one of the 20 neuropathy sera had specific surface binding to autonomic neurons (p<0.001). The majority of the sera reacted with both sympathetic and myenteric plexus neurons. Interestingly, 6/30 CRPS sera showed binding to undifferentiated SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells. However, differentiation of SH-SY5Y into a cholinergic phenotype induced a surface antigen, which is recognised by 60% of CRPS sera (18/30), but not by controls (p<0.001). Our data show that about 30-40% of CRPS patients have surface-binding autoantibodies against an inducible autonomic nervous system autoantigen. These data support an autoimmune hypothesis in CRPS patients. Further studies must elucidate origin and function of these autoantibodies in CRPS.


J Pain. 2011 Jul 7. [Epub ahead of print]

Impaired Hand Size Estimation in CRPS.


Department of Neurology, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany.


A triad of clinical symptoms, ie, autonomic, motor and sensory dysfunctions, characterizes complex regional pain syndromes (CRPS). Sensory dysfunction comprises sensory loss or spontaneous and stimulus-evoked pain. Furthermore, a disturbance in the body schema may occur. In the present study, patients with CRPS of the upper extremity and healthy controls estimated their hand sizes on the basis of expanded or compressed schematic drawings of hands. In patients with CRPS we found an impairment in accurate hand size estimation; patients estimated their own CRPS-affected hand to be larger than it actually was when measured objectively. Moreover, overestimation correlated significantly with disease duration, neglect score, and increase of two-point-discrimination-thresholds (TPDT) compared to the unaffected hand and to control subjects’ estimations. In line with previous functional imaging studies in CRPS patients demonstrating changes in central somatotopic maps, we suggest an involvement of the central nervous system in this disruption of the body schema. Potential cortical areas may be the primary somatosensory and posterior parietal cortices, which have been proposed to play a critical role in integrating visuospatial information. PERSPECTIVE: CRPS patients perceive their affected hand to be bigger than it is. The magnitude of this overestimation correlates with disease duration, decreased tactile thresholds, and neglect-score. Suggesting a disrupted body schema as the source of this impairment, our findings corroborate the current assumption of a CNS involvement in CRPS.


Pain. 2011 Aug 2. [Epub ahead of print]

Autoimmunity against the β(2) adrenergic receptor and muscarinic-2 receptor in complex regional pain syndrome.


Department of Neurology, Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Germany.


Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a painful condition affecting one or more extremities of the body, marked by a wide variety of symptoms and signs that are often difficult to manage because the pathophysiology is incompletely understood. Thus, diverse treatments might be ineffective. A recent report revealed the presence of autoantibodies against differentiated autonomic neurons in CRPS patients. However, it remained unclear how the antibodies act in the development of CRPS. We therefore aimed to characterize these antibodies and identify target antigens. Functional properties of affinity-purified immunoglobulin G of control subjects or CRPS patients were assessed using a cardiomyocyte bioassay. Putative corresponding receptors were identified using antagonistic drugs, and synthesized peptide sequences corresponding to segments of these receptors were used to identify the target epitopes. Chinese hamster ovary cells were transfected with putative receptors to ensure observed binding. Further, changes in the intracellular Ca(2+) concentration induced by agonistic immunoglobulin G were measured using the Ca(2+)-sensitive fluorescent dye fura-2 assay. Herein, we demonstrate the presence of autoantibodies in a subset of CRPS patients with agonistic-like properties on the β(2) adrenergic receptor and/or the muscarinic-2 receptor. We identified these autoantibodies as immunoglobulin G directed against peptide sequences from the second extracellular loop of these receptors. The identification of functionally active autoantibodies in serum samples from CRPS patients supports an autoimmune pathogenesis of CRPS. Thus, our findings contribute to the further understanding of this disease, could help in the diagnosis in future, and encourage new treatment strategies focusing on the immune system.



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