Use of a novel high-resolution magnetic resonance neurography protocol to detect abnormal dorsal root ganglia in sjögren patients with neuropathic pain: Case series of 10 patients and review of the literature

Julius Birnbaum, Trisha Duncan, Kristie Owoyemi, Kenneth C. Wang, John Carrino, Avneesh Chhabra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


The diagnosis and treatment of patients with Sjögren syndrome (SS) with neuropathic pain pose several challenges. Patients with SS may experience unorthodox patterns of burning pain not conforming to a traditional "stocking-and-glove" distribution, which can affect the face, torso, and proximal extremities. This distribution of neuropathic pain may reflect mechanisms targeting the proximal-most element of the peripheral nervous system - the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). Skin biopsy can diagnose such a small-fiber neuropathy and is a surrogate marker of DRG neuronal cell loss. However, SS patients have been reported who have similar patterns of proximal neuropathic pain, despite having normal skin biopsy studies. In such cases, DRGs may be targeted by mechanisms not associated with neuronal cell loss. Therefore, alternative approaches are warranted to help characterize abnormal DRGs in SS patients with proximal neuropathic pain.We performed a systematic review of the literature to define the frequency and spectrum of SS peripheral neuropathies, and to better understand the attribution of SS neuropathic pain to peripheral neuropathies. We found that the frequency of SS neuropathic pain exceeded the prevalence of peripheral neuropathies, and that painful peripheral neuropathies occurred less frequently than neuropathies not always associated with pain. We developed a novel magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) protocol to evaluate DRG abnormalities. Ten SS patients with proximal neuropathic pain were evaluated by this MRN protocol, as well as by punch skin biopsies evaluating for intraepidermal nerve fiber density (IENFD) of unmyelinated nerves. Five patients had radiographic evidence of DRG abnormalities. Patients with MRN DRG abnormalities had increased IENFD of unmyelinated nerves compared to patients without MRN DRG abnormalities (30.2 [interquartile range, 4.4] fibers/mm vs. 11.0 [4.1] fibers/mm, respectively; p = 0.03). Two of these 5 SS patients whose neuropathic pain resolved with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) therapy had improvement of MRN DRG abnormalities.We have developed a novel MRN protocol that can detect DRG abnormalities in SS patients with neuropathic pain who do not have markers of peripheral neuropathy. We found that SS patients with MRN DRG abnormalities had statistically significant, increased IENFD on skin biopsy studies, which may suggest a relationship between trophic mediators and neuropathic pain. Given that our literature review has demonstrated that many SS neuropathic pain patients do not have a neuropathy, our findings suggest an important niche for this MRN DRG technique in the evaluation of broader subsets of SS neuropathic pain patients who may not have underlying neuropathies. The improvement of MRN DRG abnormalities in patients with IVIg-induced remission of neuropathic pain suggests that our MRN protocol may be capturing reversible, immune-mediated mechanisms targeting the DRG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-134
Number of pages14
JournalMedicine (United States)
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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