Fibromyalgia Pain Appears Linked to Aberrant Dopamine Signaling

Fibromyalgia Pain Appears Linked to Aberrant Dopamine Signaling

A recent study entitled “Differential dopamine function in fibromyalgia,” published in the Brain Imaging and Behavior journal, suggests that dopamine signaling may be altered in fibromyalgia patients, contributing to their enhanced pain experience.

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter involved in cognitive functions and associated with the regulation of pain sensing processes, i.e., nociception. Fibromyalgia patients have altered dopamine function that may result in abnormal pain perception. Nonetheless, the neurobiological processes of dopamine signaling in fibromyalgia and its implications for patients’ pain experience and cognitive functions are still largely unknown.

Researchers studied dopamine activity in the brains of 12 FM patients and 12 healthy individuals using positron emission tomography (PET) combined with a radiotracer dopamine receptor agonist. Dopamine activity effects on pain sensing and cognitive functions were established by measuring radiotracer binding in different brain regions during specific assessment tests.

The team showed that fibromyalgia patients seem to have altered dopamine transmission, showing evidences of lower dopamine binding levels in the brain cortex compared to healthy individuals. This is associated with a higher spontaneous pain rating, increased sensitivity and decreased tolerance to experimental provoked pain. The brain cortical regions with lower dopamine activity in fibromyalgia are associated with the regulation and processing of the emotional and affective components of pain, which could explain the high incidence of emotional disturbance and enhanced pain perception in fibromyalgia. This could also lead to cognitive deficits commonly described by fibromyalgia patients, since these brain regions are also part of functional networks for memory and sensory information processing of the surrounding environment. However, these results need to be substantiated by larger cohort studies.

Overall, authors suggest that dopamine signaling might be important for nociception and cognitive processing in fibromyalgia and in other chronic pain syndromes as well. Future studies are needed to fully understand the implications of dopamine activity in chronic pain diseases.

3 comments

  1. Mika says:

    I have a question. I hope you don’t mind.
    Could those observed patterns be a result of persistent pain experience and repetitive use of pain pathways? Rather than the cause of? Thank you in advance, Dr.

    • Patricia Silva, PhD says:

      Hello Mika, your question makes sense, however, the authors of the study suggest that it is this altered dopamine signaling that enhances the pain experience/sensitivity in fibromyalgia patients. Nonetheless, as the authors emphasized, further research is needed to really understand the role played by dopamine signaling in chronic pain.

      • Cyndi Thomen says:

        Thank you for your fine work in this field. As a sufferer of fibromyalgia, and the fog associated with it, I hope that this may lead to an effective treatment. I would like to become a certified sign language interpreter. I am 57 and have been an in-home CNA for many years. Since my back will no longer allow me to work as such, I want to continue to be of service. However, I now have to have a Bachelor’s degree. I graduated in 1977 and until last year (2015), have not been in school since. I cannot express how difficult having fibro is affecting me. Thank you again.

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