Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Michigan have discovered a new clue in the mystery of what causes fibromyalgia pain. The study, published in the August issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, found that fibromyalgia patients have more "connectivity" between brain networks and regions of the brain involved in pain processing.
A total of 36 women – 18 fibromyalgia patients and 18 healthy controls – took part in the study. Fibromyalgia participants were asked to rate the intensity of their pain at the time of the test on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is equivalent to "no pain present" and 10 is equivalent to "the worst pain they could imagine." Reported pain scores ranged from 0 to 8.1. Next, participants each underwent six minutes of resting-state brain scans - functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Results and Conclusions
The brain scans showed that the neural activity (connectivity) between certain brain networks and the insular cortex – a region of the brain involved in pain processing – was greater in the women with FM than in the healthy controls. The connectivity to the insular cortex was notably stronger in those who reported higher pain levels.
The brain networks included were the default mode network (DMN), which is involved when you think about yourself or what's happening to you, and the executive attention network (EAN), which is involved in working memory and attention.
The researchers concluded, “Our findings indicate that resting brain activity within multiple networks is associated with spontaneous clinical pain in FM. These findings may also have broader implications for how subjective experiences such as pain arise from a complex interplay amongst multiple brain networks.”
Although I'm not a scientist and therefore don't fully understand some of the more technical aspects and implications of this study, it seems significant to me. Prior studies involving fMRI brain scans have shown that when a painful stimulus is applied to someone with FM, they feel the pain more intensely than a healthy subject.
But in this study, nobody/nothing that should elicit pain touched the FM patients. The brain scans were done when they were resting, yet there was still much more neural activity between networks and regions of the brain in FM patients than in the healthy controls. And the amount of activity correlated with the level of pain experienced.
Could finding a way to slow down or stop the connective activity reduce or eliminate the pain? I don't know, but it certainly opens up an interesting and promising new area for researchers to look into.
Napadow V, et al. Intrinsic Brain Connectivity in Fibromyalgia Is Associated With Chronic Pain Intensity. Arthritis & Rheumatism; Published Online: April 6, 2010 (DOI: 10.1002/art.27497); Print Issue Date: August 2010.
More Clues to Fibromyalgia Pain. Drugs.com. August 5, 2010.
Interaction of Multiple Brain Networks Provide Insight Into How Pain Occurs. Medical News Today. July 31, 2010.
Published On: August 11, 2010