Neural correlates of the attentional bias towards pain-related faces in fibromyalgia patients: An ERP study using a dot-probe task
Background One of the major cognitive deficits in fibromyalgia has been linked to the hypervigilance phenomenon. It is mainly reflected as a negative bias for allocating attentional resources towards both threatening and pain-related information. Although the interest in its study has recently grown, the neural temporal dynamics of the attentional bias in fibromyalgia still remains an open question. Method Fifty participants (25 fibromyalgia patients and 25 healthy control subjects) performed a dot-probe task. Two types of facial expressions (pain-related and neutral) were employed as signal stimuli. Then, as a target stimulus, a single dot replaced the location of one of these two faces. Event-related potentials (ERP) in response to facial expressions and target stimulation (i.e., dot) were recorded. Reaction time (RT) and accuracy measures in the experimental task were collected as behavioural outcomes. Results Temporal dynamics of brain electrical activity were analysed on two ERP components (P2 and N2a) sensitive to the facial expressions meaning. Pain-related faces elicited higher frontal P2 amplitudes than neutral faces for the whole sample. Interestingly, an interaction effect between group and facial expressions was also found showing that pain-related faces elicited enhanced P2 amplitudes (at fronto-central regions, in this case) compared to neutral faces only when the group of patients was considered. Furthermore, higher P2 amplitudes were observed in response to pain-related faces in patients with fibromyalgia compared to healthy control participants. Additionally, a shorter latency of P2 (at centro-parietal regions) was also detected for pain-related facial expressions compared to neutral faces. Regarding the amplitude of N2a, it was lower for patients as compared to the control group. Non-relevant effects of the target stimulation on the ERPs were found. However, patients with fibromyalgia exhibited slower RT to locate the single dot for incongruent trials as compared to congruent and neutral trials. Conclusions Data suggest the presence of an attentional bias in fibromyalgia that it would be followed by a deficit in the allocation of attentional resources to further process pain-related information. Altogether the current results suggest that attentional biases in fibromyalgia might be explained by automatic attentional mechanisms, which seem to be accompanied by an alteration of more strategic or controlled attentional components.