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Structural alterations in brainstem of fibromyalgia syndrome patients correlate with sensitivity to mechanical pressure.
Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic pain disorder characterised by widespread pain and tenderness in muscles and deep tissues. Current theories regarding the pathophysiological origins of fibromyalgia syndrome point towards central sensitisation and a decreased capacity of descending nociceptive controls.
Morphological alterations to subcortical brain regions may contribute to such pathophysiological mechanisms, and to pain and other symptoms seen in fibromyalgia. Therefore, we evaluated geometric differences in subcortical structures in fibromyalgia patients relative to healthy people using a novel method of shape analysis.
Sixteen female fibromyalgia patients and 15 age and sex matched, healthy control subjects underwent high-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance image scanning. Data was analysed using shape analysis of 15 subcortical regions and standard voxel-based morphometry analysis.
Fibromyalgia syndrome patients, relative to healthy control participants, exhibited alterations to the shape of the left lateral aspect of the lower brainstem (medulla).
The mean total volume of the brainstem was also found to be significantly reduced in the patient group compared to healthy control subjects, and this brainstem volume reduction in patient group significantly correlated with clinical manual tender point scale scores.
Voxel-based morphometry analysis revealed that patients also demonstrated decreased local grey matter volumes in the brainstem (pons) and left precuneus, and increased grey matter volumes in bilateral primary somatosensory cortices.
Results suggest that the volume reduction and associated geometric shape alterations seen in the brainstem of the patient group may contribute to sensitivity to pressure pain in fibromyalgia syndrome. This finding may be due to structure-related deficiencies in regions subserving descending nociceptive control.
Source: Neuroimage, August 9, 2013. By Nicholas Fallon, Jamaan Alghamdi, Yee Chiu, Vanessa Sluming, Turo Nurmikko, and Andrej Stancak. Department of Experimental Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.