Brain Activity Changes in Somatosensory and Emotion-Related Areas With Medial Patellofemoral Ligament Deficiency
Patellar instability with medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL) deficiency is a common sports injury among young people. Although nonoperative and surgical treatment can provide stability of the patella, patients often have anxiety related to the knee. We speculate that neural dysfunction may be related to anxiety in these patients; however, the mechanism in the brain that generates this anxiety remains unknown.
(1) How does brain activity in patients with MPFL deficiency change in the areas related to somatic sensation against lateral shift of the patella? (2) How does patella instability, which can lead to continuous fear or apprehension for dislocation, influence brain activity in the areas related to emotion?
Nineteen patients with MPFL deficiency underwent surgical reconstruction in our hospital from April 2012 to March 2014. Excluding seven patients with osteochondral lesions, 12 patients (five males and seven females; mean age, 20 years) with MPFL deficiency were sequentially included in this study. Eleven control subjects (four males and seven females; mean age, 23 years) were recruited from medical students who had no history of knee injury. Diagnosis of the MPFL deficiency was made with MR images, which confirmed the rupture, and by proving the instability with a custom-made biomechanical device. Brain activity during passive lateral stress to the patella was assessed by functional MRI. Functional and anatomic images were analyzed using statistical parametric mapping. Differences in functional MRI outcome measures from the detected activated brain regions between the patients with MPFL deficiency and controls were assessed using t tests.
Intergroup analysis showed less activity in several sensorimotor cortical areas, including the contralateral primary somatosensory areas (% signal change for MPFL group 0.49% versus 1.1% for the control group; p < 0.001), thalamus (0.2% versus 0.41% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), ipsilateral thalamus (0.02% versus 0.27% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), and ipsilateral cerebellum (0.82% versus 1.25% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001) in the MPFL deficiency group than in the control group. In contrast, the MPFL deficiency group showed more activity in several areas, including the contralateral primary motor area (1.06% versus 0.6% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), supplementary motor area (0.89% versus 0.52% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), prefrontal cortex (1.09% versus 1.09% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), inferior parietal lobule (0.89% versus 0.62% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), anterior cingulate cortex (0.84% versus 0.08% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), visual cortex (0.86% versus 0.14% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), vermis (1.18% versus 0.37% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001), and ipsilateral prefrontal cortex (1.1% versus 0.75% for the MPFL versus control, respectively; p < 0.001) than did the control group.
Less activity in the contralateral somatosensory cortical areas suggested that MPFL deficiency may lead to diminished somatic sensation against lateral shift of the patella. In contrast, increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and inferior parietal lobule may indicate anxiety or fear resulting from patellar instability, which is recognized as an aversion similar to that toward chronic pain.
This study suggests that specific brain-area activity is increased in patients with MPFL deficiency relative to that in controls. Further longitudinal research to assess brain activity and proprioception between patients pre- and postreconstructive knee surgery may reveal more regarding how patella instability is related to brain function. We hope that based on such research, a neural approach to improve patella-instability-related brain function can be developed.