Scientists at King’s College London have discovered a link between specific alterations in DNA (called epigenetics) and chronic widespread joint pain, one of fibromyalgia’s main symptoms.
Epigenetics corresponds to changes caused by modifications in gene expression rather than alterations on the genetic DNA code.
Even though fibromyalgia is fairly common, its underlying causes are not fully understood and there are limited treatments available. There are no specific diagnostic tests for the condition and conventional screenings, like x-rays, are unable to detect the disease.
Researchers believe their findings will help scientists worldwide develop a blood diagnostic test for fibromyalgia, which is estimated to affect one in every 25 people.
The study reporting the findings was published in the journal PLOS ONE under the title “Are Epigenetic Factors Implicated in Chronic Widespread Pain?” The study was funded by Arthritis Research UK.
“Fibromyalgia is influenced by genetic factors, but there are many complicated steps between gene and disease. Identifying measurable epigenetic links is a major step forward,” Frances Williams, one of the authors of the study, said in a press release. “In addition, the results will inform future research in fibromyalgia as well as other chronic pain syndromes, such as irritable bowel syndrome.”
The researchers used twins to determine if the pattern of marks on the DNA (called DNA methylation, an epigenetics mechanism) could affect the genes’ activity regarding the production of particular proteins, as well as identifying any differences in those who do and don’t have chronic widespread joint pain.
Researchers found three genes with distinct patterns of DNA methylation in individuals with and without chronic widespread pain.
Preliminary findings point toward the suggestion that patients with chronic widespread pain might have different patterns of methylation in their DNA, and that this might be modifying the activity of certain genes, causing the condition in the first place.
“There are millions of people in the UK who are living with the pain of fibromyalgia,” said Stephen Simpson, Arthritis Research UK’s director of research and programs. “This really exciting research is an important step forward in our understanding of how epigenetic differences between individuals can influence our likelihood of developing fibromyalgia and chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain.”
“For too long, people with fibromyalgia have struggled to get a diagnosis for their painful symptoms. This research will help pave the way for better understanding, management and treatment of joint pain,” Simpson said.