Korsakoff syndrome and altered pain perception: a search of underlying neural mechanisms

Jan W Wijnia*, Erik Oudman, Deirdre M Batjes, Brigitte A Brouwer, Misha Oey, Albert Postma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Patients with Korsakoff syndrome (KS) may have a diminished pain perception. Information on KS and pain is scarce and limited to case descriptions. The present study is the first to investigate the underlying neural mechanisms of altered pain perception in patients with KS more systematically.

METHODS: We conducted a literature search on neural correlates of pain perception in other neurocognitive disorders in which extensive research was done.

RESULTS: The brain areas that are affected in KS showed considerable overlap with the neural correlates of pain perception in other neurocognitive disorders. We discussed which different aspects of disturbed pain perception could play a role within KS, based on distinct neural damage and brain areas involved in pain perception.

CONCLUSIONS: Combining current knowledge, we hypothesize that diminished pain perception in KS may be related to lesioned neural connections between cerebral cortical networks and relays of mainly the thalamus, the periaqueductal gray, and possibly lower brain stem regions projecting to the cerebellum. Based on these neural correlates of altered pain perception, we assume that increased pain thresholds, inhibition of pain signals, and disturbed input to cerebral and cerebellar cortical areas involved in pain processing, all are candidate mechanisms in cases of diminished pain perception in KS. We recommend that clinicians need to be alert for somatic morbidity in patients with KS. Due to altered neural processing of nociceptive input the clinical symptoms of somatic morbidity may present differently (i.e. limited pain responses) and therefore are at risk of being missed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-432
Number of pages9
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Issue number2
Early online date20 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2023


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