Fibromyalgia: a probable autoimmune origin

The symptoms of this still poorly understood disease are thought to be caused by antibodies that increase the activity of pain-sensitive nerves throughout the body, a study finds.


  • Contrary to what the medical profession has suggested until then, fibromyalgia does not find its origin only in the brain.
  • This new research carried out on mice shows that antibodies present in the body of people with this disease are the cause of symptoms such as pain and muscle weakness.
  • This discovery opens the way to a new therapeutic avenue.

Affecting 2 to 4% of the adult population and particularly women, fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that can lead to chronic diffuse pain in the joints and muscles, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and depressive symptoms. Recognized by the World Health Organization in 1992, fibromyalgia is a disease with a complex diagnosis, and therefore often poorly managed, or even ignored by the medical profession.

A new study, conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, may shed light on the origins of this disease. According to its authors, who publish their findings in the Journal of Clinical Investigation , fibromyalgia is a disease of the immune system and therefore does not, as previously believed, originate in the brain .

Antibodies responsible for the symptoms

The researchers worked from a mouse model, and indeed found that symptoms of fibromyalgia, including increased pain sensitivity, muscle weakness, reduced movement and decreased number of small nerve fibers in the skin are a consequence of a reaction of the patients’ antibodies.

The researchers injected mice with antibodies from people living with fibromyalgia and observed that the mice quickly developed increased sensitivity to pressure and cold, as well as reduced grip strength in movements. In comparison, mice in the control group that received antibodies from healthy people were not affected. This would therefore prove that the patients’ antibodies are at the origin of the disease, or at least contribute greatly to it.

Hope for effective treatment

Scientists also found that mice that received antibodies from fibromyalgia patients recovered after a few weeks, when the antibodies were cleared from their system. This finding therefore suggests that therapies that reduce antibody levels in patients are likely to be effective treatments. This discovery is all the more hopeful since such therapies are already available and regularly used to treat other disorders caused by autoantibodies.

“The implications of this study are profound. Establishing that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder will transform the way we view the disease and should pave the way for more effective treatments for the millions of people affected. Our work has highlighted a whole new area of ​​treatment options and should give fibromyalgia patients real hope , “said Dr. David Andersson, principal investigator of the study at King’s College.

“Earlier exploration of therapies has been hampered by our limited understanding of the disease. This should now change. Treatment for FMS focuses on gentle aerobic exercise , as well as drug and psychological therapies designed to manage pain, though. that they have proven ineffective in most patients and that they have left behind enormous unmet clinical needs ,  he concludes.

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