The symptomatology of the fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) often resembles an alteration in central nervous set points at least in three systems. The patients suffer under chronic pain in the region of the locomotor system, presumably reflecting a disturbed central processing of pain. Anxiety and depression often characterizes the clinical picture. Almost all of the hormonal feedback mechanisms controlled by the hypothalamus are altered. Characteristic for FMS patients are the elevated basal values of ACTH, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and cortisol as well as lowered basal values of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1, somatomedin C), free triiodothyronine (FT3), and oestrogen. In FMS patients, the systemic administration of the relevant releasing hormones of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), thyreotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), and luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) leads to increased secretion of ACTH and prolactin, whereas the degree to which TSH can be stimulated is reduced. The stimulation of the hypophysis with LHRH in female FMS patients during their follicular phase results in a significantly reduced LH response. All in all, the typical alterations in set points of hormonal regulation that are typical for FMS patients can be explained as a primary stress activation of hypothalamic CRH neurons caused by the chronic pain. In addition to the stimulation of pituitary ACTH secretion, CRH activates somatostatin on the hypothalamic level, which in turn inhibits the release of GH and TSH on the hypophyseal level. The lowered oestrogen levels could be accounted for both via an inhibitory effect of the CRH on the hypothalamic release of LHRH or via a direct CRH-mediated inhibition of the FSH-stimulated oestrogen production in the ovary. Serotonin (5HT), precursors like tryptophan (5HTP), drugs which release 5HT or act directly on 5HT receptors stimulate HPA axis, indicating a stimulatory serotonergic influence on HPA axis function. Therefore activation of the HPA axis may reflect an elevated serotonergic tonus in the central nervous system of FMS patients.
Department of Rheumatology, Kerckhoff Clinic and Foundation, Bad Nauheim, Germany.