Fibromyalgia is an often misunderstood and mis-diagnosed condition that can cause severe, debilitating pain and disability for sufferers. Until now, a definite cause of fibromyalgia has been a mystery, although it has been linked to trauma, stress, depression and co-morbidity with other diseases.
But now researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have discovered a link between fibromyalgia and a specific brain molecule. The molecule is glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter. Researchers found that when glutamate levels decreased, so did the severity of pain.
Previous studies have shown that fibromyalgia sufferers had increased activity in some brain regions, namely the insula. Neurons in these patients are more active in this part of the brain and researchers hypothesize that more activity among these neurons might be related to the level of glutamate in this region.
To gauge the linkage between pain and glutamate, the researchers used a non-invasive brain imaging techinique called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (H-MRS). H-MRS was performed once before and once following a four-week course of acupuncture or “sham” acupuncture.
Researchers used either acupuncture or sham acupuncture to reduce pain symptoms. The sham procedure involved using a sharp device to prick the skin in order to mimic real acupuncture sensations.
Following the four weeks of treatment, both clinical and experimental pain reported were reduced significantly. More importantly the reduction in both pain outcomes was linked with reductions in glutamate levels in the insula: patients with greater reductions in pain showed greater reductions in glutamate. This suggests that glutamate may play a role in this disease and that it could potentially be used as a biomarker of disease severity.
University of Michigan - Pain in fibromyalgia is linked to changes in brain molecule