People with fibromyalgia have chronic pain and sensitivity to pressure and cold throughout the body, although they may also have trouble sleeping and experience fatigue and emotional distress.
According to statistics, fibromyalgia affects an average of 2.10% of the world population, 2.31% of the American population. Of this percentage, 80% of people with the condition are women.
There is no cure for this condition, but treatments to relieve symptoms often include pain relievers, antidepressants, and lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity levels and improving sleep habits.
Although researchers haven’t been sure exactly what causes fibromyalgia, there are some clues that the immune system might be to blame. For example, people with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, 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.Now, a research team made up of scientists from King’s College London, the University of Liverpool and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, suggests that many symptoms of fibromyalgia occur when the individual’s antibodies increase the activity of pain-sensitive nerves.
When the scientists injected antibodies from people with fibromyalgia into mice, the animals became more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli, but they also became weaker and moved less.
In contrast, neither injections of antibodies from healthy controls nor serum from people with fibromyalgia without the antibodies had any effect on the mice. In fact, the antibodies bound to the cells of the dorsal root ganglia. These groups of neurons transmit sensory signals from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord.
What Implications Does This Research Have?
“Establishing that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder will transform the way we view the condition and should pave the way for more effective treatments for the millions of people affected,” said David Andersson, principal investigator of the study.
Antibodies from people with fibromyalgia appear to sensitize nociceptors, which are nerves in the skin that send pain signals to the brain when they detect extreme temperatures and pressures or harmful chemicals.
The mice’s symptoms completely resolved within 2-3 weeks after the animals cleared the human antibodies from their systems. This suggests that therapies that selectively reduce antibody levels in the bloodstream could be effective.
In this sense, there are already therapeutic techniques to reduce the general level of antibodies in the bloodstream or to eliminate specific autoimmune antibodies. Alternatively, scientists could develop drugs that prevent these antibodies from binding to their targets.