Fibromyalgia: More evidence of links to immune system

  • There are currently no effective treatments for fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes widespread pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and emotional distress.
  • The underlying cause has remained a mystery, although some research has hinted at the involvement of the immune system.
  • A study has now found that antibodies from people with fibromyalgia induce symptoms of the disease in mice, which strongly suggests that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder.
  • The discovery could lead to diagnostic blood tests for the disease and more effective treatments.

People with fibromyalgia have chronic pain and sensitivity to pressure and cold all over their body. They may also have trouble sleeping and experience fatigue and emotional distress.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, close to 4 million adults in the United States have fibromyalgia, which equates to about 2% of the adult population. According to most estimates, 80%Trusted Source of people with the condition are female.

There is no cure, but treatments to relieve symptoms usually include pain relief medication, antidepressants, and lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity levels and improving sleep habits.

Although researchers have not been sure exactly what causes fibromyalgia, there are some clues that the immune system might be responsible.

For example, people with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are autoimmune disorders, are more likely than other people to develop the condition.

Autoimmune disorders arise when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, but there has been no direct evidence that this occurs in fibromyalgia.

A research team comprising scientists at King’s College London and the University of Liverpool, both in the United Kingdom, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, now suggests that many fibromyalgia symptoms occur when the individual’s antibodies increase the activity of pain-sensing nerves.

When the scientists injected antibodies from people with fibromyalgia into mice, the animals became more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli. They also became weaker and moved around less.

In contrast, neither injections of antibodies from healthy controls nor serum from people with fibromyalgia with the antibodies removed had an effect on the mice.

The antibodies bound to cells in the dorsal root gangliaTrusted Source. These clusters of neurons relay sensory signals from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord.

The research features in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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