Chronic pain is often measured with a severity score that overlooks its spatial distribution across the body. This widespread pain is believed to be a marker of centralization, a central nervous system process that decouples pain perception from nociceptive input. Here, we investigated whether centralization is manifested at the level of the brain using data from 1079 participants in the Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Chronic Pelvic Pain Research Network (MAPP) study. Participants with a clinical diagnosis of urological chronic pelvic pain syndrome (UCPPS) were compared to pain-free controls and patients with fibromyalgia, the prototypical centralized pain disorder. Participants completed questionnaires capturing pain severity, function, and a body map of pain. A subset (UCPPS N = 110; fibromyalgia N = 23; healthy control N = 49) underwent functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging. Patients with UCPPS reported pain ranging from localized (pelvic) to widespread (throughout the body). Patients with widespread UCPPS displayed increased brain gray matter volume and functional connectivity involving sensorimotor and insular cortices (P < 0.05 corrected). These changes translated across disease diagnoses as identical outcomes were present in patients with fibromyalgia but not pain-free controls. Widespread pain was also associated with reduced physical and mental function independent of pain severity. Brain pathology in patients with centralized pain is related to pain distribution throughout the body. These patients may benefit from interventions targeting the central nervous system.
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View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5964335