Summary: The researchers examined the gray and white matter of the brain, investigating the effects of fibromyalgia. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the team found reduced gray matter volume in fibromyalgia patients’ pain-processing areas.
Furthermore, the thalamus, a critical hub in the pain processing network, showed altered signal transmission. Interestingly, the study suggested that these brain changes could potentially be reversible, influenced by factors such as activity levels and mental health.
- The study found decreased gray matter volume in pain-processing areas of fibromyalgia patients.
- Altered signal transmission was observed in the thalamus of fibromyalgia patients, indicating altered pain signaling.
- Changes in brain structure are associated with patients’ pain perception and behavior, and intriguingly, can be influenced by factors such as physical activity and mental health, suggesting potential reversibility.
A research team led by Professors Martin Diers and Benjamin Mosch analyzed magnetic resonance imaging data of 23 female patients with fibromyalgia and 21 healthy control subjects.
They wanted to examine the amount of gray matter, that is, the nerve cells, in different pain-processing areas of the brain, and the so-called white matter, which is mainly composed of fiber connections in between nerve cells where signals are sent. .
“One of our goals is to find out if the direction of diffusion of water molecules differs in certain areas of the brain, in other words: if we can identify any regional differences in signal transmission,” explains Benjamin Mosch.
The researchers found changes in the volume of gray matter mainly in the pain network of the brain, that is, in the regions responsible for processing and evaluating pain.
“In some regions responsible for disease suppression, we found a decrease in gray matter in patients compared to healthy individuals,” explains Benjamin Mosch. “In patients, the volume of these regions is significantly reduced.”
Regarding the transmission of signals, changes were found in the thalamus. The thalamus is considered an important node in neuronal pain processing.
White matter deviations in patients with fibromyalgia compared to healthy controls indicate an altered conduction of pain signals in patients with fibromyalgia.
Relationships between brain structure, cognition and behavior
The team finally related the results of changes in brain structure to the cognitive and behavioral characteristics of the study participants. The amount of decreased volume in a number of relevant brain regions was inversely related to the amount of perceived pain reported by the patients.
The researchers made an interesting observation when studying the relationship between depressiveness or activity levels with changes in the volume of certain brain areas. The volume of the so-called putamen was negatively associated with the expression of depressive symptoms and positively with the level of activity of the participants.
“This indicates that the changes in the brain may not be permanent, but they can be influenced; in other words they can be restored, for example through an active daily life,” concludes Benjamin Mosch.
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Author: Meike Driessen
Please contact: Meike Driessen – RUB
Image: Image credited to Neuroscience News
Original Research: Closed access.
“Brain morphometric changes in fibromyalgia and the impact of psychometric and clinical factors: A volumetric and diffusion-tensor imaging study” by Martin Diers et al. Arthritis Research and Therapy
Brain morphometric changes in fibromyalgia and the impact of psychometric and clinical factors: A volumetric and diffusion-tensor imaging study
Previous studies have repeatedly found distinct brain morphometric changes in patients with fibromyalgia (FM), mainly affecting gray and white matter abnormalities in sensory-related areas. and pain processing. However, few studies so far have linked different types of structural changes and little is known about the behavioral and clinical determinants that may influence the occurrence and development. of such changes.
We used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI) to detect regional patterns of (micro)structural gray (GM) and white matter (WM) changes in 23 patients with FM vs. in 21 healthy controls (HC) , while taking into account the influence of demographic, psychometric, and clinical variables (age, symptom severity, pain duration, heat pain threshold, depression scores).
VBM and DTI revealed remarkable patterns of brain morphometric changes in FM patients. The bilateral middle temporal gyrus (MTG), parahippocampal gyrus, left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), right putamen, right caudate nucleus, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) showed a significant decrease in GM volume. In contrast, increased GM volume was observed in the bilateral cerebellum and left thalamus. Furthermore, patients showed microstructural changes of WM connectivity within the medial lemniscus, corpus callosum, and tracts surrounding and connecting the thalamus. The sensory-discriminative aspect of pain (pain severity, pain thresholds) mainly showed negative correlations with GM within the bilateral putamen, pallidum, right midcingulate cortex (MCC), and multiple thalamic substructures, whereas chronic of pain was negatively correlated with GM volumes in the right insular cortex and left rolandic operculum. Affective-motivational aspects of the disease (depressive mood, general activity) were associated with GM and FA values within the bilateral putamen and thalamus.
Our results suggest a variety of distinct brain structural changes in FM, particularly affecting areas involved in pain and emotion processing such as the thalamus, putamen, and insula.