Fibromyalgia (FM) is a painful disorder that healthcare providers in the past have sometimes failed to recognize as an actual medical condition. It is characterized by widespread pain of unknown origin, and can be hard to tell apart from other conditions like arthritis.
A new study, titled “Mucosal-Associated Invariant T Cell Is a Potential Marker to Distinguish Fibromyalgia Syndrome from Arthritis“ has been published in the journal PloS One. It could mean good news for those suffering from FM. Researchers from Sapporo, Japan have found a biomarker that could distinguish FM from arthritis, helping direct patients to the right treatments and legitimizing FM as a true biological condition.
A biomarker refers to something that can be measured in a person’s biology to distinguish a disease from a healthy state. Biomarkers are often used to measure responses to treatment. Proteins found in the blood can serve as biomarkers.
The investigators used blood samples to try to find biomarker molecules that are different in people with FM when compared to people who have the related and often co-occurring conditions, rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis. They focused on a type of cell called mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT).
Led by Chie Sugimoto of the Department of Hygiene & Cellular Preventive Medicine at Hokkaido University, the scientists used a technique called multicolor flow cytometric analysis that allowed them to measure different molecules in the blood of 26 people with FM, 21 people with rheumatoid arthritis, 37 people with spondyloarthritis and 16 health people without these problems. The looked at the surface of the blood cells to try to find differences.
The team found several proteins on the surface of cells that could help to identify FM compared to health control–receptors known as CCR4, CCR7, CXCR1, NKp80, CD150, CD107a and CD8beta. They also found biomarkers that could identify the two types of arthritis.
The study authors concluded that “Combined with the currently available diagnostic procedures and criteria, analysis of MAIT cells offers a more objective standard for the diagnosis of [fibromyalgia and the two types of arthritis], which exhibit multifaceted and confusingly similar clinical manifestations.”
The new biomarkers might become part of a clinical diagnostic test, and could be used to supplement current diagnosis of FM and distinguish it from arthritis or other similar conditions. In addition, the biomarkers could become targets for new treatments for FM. Finding a biomarker that is specific to FM also helps to distinguish this disease as a distinct medical condition, and may provide healthcare providers with the information they need to understand that it is a true disease.