Sensitivity of ventrolateral posterior thalamic nucleus to back pain in alcoholism and CD4 nadir in HIV

Natalie M. Zahr, Edith V. Sullivan, Kilian M. Pohl, Adolf Pfefferbaum, Manojkumar Saranathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Volumes of thalamic nuclei are differentially affected by disease-related processes including alcoholism and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. This MRI study included 41 individuals diagnosed with alcohol use disorders (AUD, 12 women), 17 individuals infected with HIV (eight women), and 49 healthy controls (24 women) aged 39 to 75 years. A specialized, high-resolution acquisition protocol enabled parcellation of five thalamic nuclei: anterior [anterior ventral (AV)], posterior [pulvinar (Pul)], medial [mediodorsal (MD)], and ventral [including ventral lateral posterior (VLp) and ventral posterior lateral (VPl)]. An omnibus mixed-model approach solving for volume considered the “fixed effects” of nuclei, diagnosis, and their interaction while covarying for hemisphere, sex, age, and supratentorial volume (svol). The volume by diagnosis interaction term was significant; the effects of hemisphere and sex were negligible. Follow-up mixed-model tests thus evaluated the combined (left + right) volume of each nucleus separately for effects of diagnosis while controlling for age and svol. Only the VLp showed diagnoses effects and was smaller in the AUD (p =.04) and HIV (p =.0003) groups relative to the control group. In the AUD group, chronic back pain (p =.008) and impaired deep tendon ankle reflex (p =.0005) were associated with smaller VLp volume. In the HIV group, lower CD4 nadir (p =.008) was associated with smaller VLp volume. These results suggest that the VLp is differentially sensitive to disease processes associated with AUD and HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1351-1361
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • alcoholism
  • in vivo
  • pain
  • sensorimotor
  • thalamic nuclei

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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