The causes of the difficult-to-treat pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, are largely unknown. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute and the Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that glial cells, the immune cells of the central nervous system, are activated in the brains of patients with fibromyalgia through the use of PET brain imaging. The finding has been published in the scientific journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity and can open the way for new therapies.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that causes severe pain in the muscles and joints, severe fatigue, insomnia and cognitive difficulties. The greater sensitivity to pain that is characteristic of the syndrome has been related to functional and structural alterations of the regions of the brain associated with pain processing.
In 2012, the Eva Kosek research group at Karolinska Institutet showed that patients with fibromyalgia had elevated levels of certain inflammatory substances (cytokines) in the cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting an inflammation of the central nervous system. Their findings were subsequently corroborated by other researchers, but the source of the inflammation remained unknown.
The glial cells are activated.
The use of modern PET (positron emission topography) with brain images by Eva Kosek’s team has shown that the immune cells of the central nervous system, called glial cells, are activated and, therefore, give rise to an inflammation of the brain.
“As far as we know, this is the first time it has been shown that glial cells are involved in the pathogenesis of fibromyalgia,” says Professor Eva Kosek of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.
The results show that in Swedish and American patients with fibromyalgia, glial cells are activated in large parts of the cerebral cortex, and that the degree of activation was related to the degree of fatigue reported by patients.
Objective aberrations in the brain.
“The findings can pave the way for the development of completely new therapies for this currently difficult-to-treat condition,” says Professor Kosek. “The fact that scientific research can demonstrate objective aberrations in the brains of people with fibromyalgia is expected to mitigate the suspicion with which health services and society treat patients.”
Today, it is estimated that 200,000 Swedes, mainly women, suffer from fibromyalgia. It is known that the brains of people with the condition have a reduced ability to cushion pain signals, which means that things that are normally painless cause considerable discomfort.
The study was a collaboration between the Eva Kosek research group at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, the PET Center at Karolinska Institutet and the research group of Dr. Marco Loggia at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at the Massachusetts General Hospital, EE . UU The research in Sweden was funded by several sources, including the Seventh Framework and EU Program and a donation from the Lundblad Family. The Swedish part of the project was also funded by the Stockholm County Council, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Rheumatism Association and the Swedish Fibromyalgia Association.