Certain Immune Cells in Brain May Boost Inflammatory TNF in Fibromyalgia Patients, Study Reports

Certain Immune Cells in Brain May Boost Inflammatory TNF in Fibromyalgia Patients, Study Reports

A specific type of human-induced immune cell derived from patients with fibromyalgia is hyper-responsive, resulting in increased levels of a known pro-inflammatory factor thought to be linked to pain intensity, depression and anxiety, and decreased quality of life, according to a new study.

The study titled “Fibromyalgia and microglial TNF-α: Translational research using human blood induced microglia-like cells” was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Previous studies have shown that patients with fibromyalgia are hyper-responsive to stimuli compared to healthy persons. Additionally, immune cells and inflammatory cytokines (specific molecules that signal to neighboring cells) are thought to be involved in the symptoms associated with the disease.

Microglial cells are specific immune cells that function in the brain. They are known to release cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin (IL)-1β. Activation of these cells is thought to be a potential underlying cause of chronic pain.

However, research in this area has been slow due to technical and ethical limitations regarding work with human microglial cells. To overcome these restrictions, a research group from Japan developed a method to create human-induced microglial-like (iMG) cells from human peripheral blood monocytes (a type of white blood cell).

After collecting the peripheral blood, the researchers apply two cytokines — IL-34 and granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) — to the monocytes. Within two weeks, they have generated iMG cells, which a recent study showed have similar characteristics to primary human microglia.

In the most recent study published in the Scientific Reports, researchers generated iMG cells from 14 patients with fibromyalgia and 10 healthy individuals, and compared the activation of iMG cells between the two groups at the cellular level.

After generation of iMG cells, the team applied extracellular ATP, a neurotransmitter that is known to affect microglial cell function.

The team found that gene expression of TNF-α was significantly higher in iMG cells from patients with fibromyalgia compared to healthy patients. They also found that TNF-α levels were higher in the cell culture media where iMG cells grew, meaning that these cells are secreting TNF-α and affecting neighboring cells.

No significant differences were found with other pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-8, or with anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10.

These findings suggest that microglial cells in fibromyalgia are hyper-responsive to ATP stimulation, resulting in increased TNF-α expression and secretion.

The researchers also show a moderately positive correlation between TNF-α expression level and subjective pain intensity, assessed by the visual analog scale (VAS). There was also a moderate positive correlation between TNF-α expression level and severity of both anxiety and depression.

A negative correlation was observed between TNF-α expression and quality of life.

These findings suggest that clinical parameters associated with fibromyalgia such as pain intensity, psychiatric symptoms (depression and anxiety), and quality of life may be regulated by levels of microglia-derived TNF-α.

Further studies are warranted to ensure that these results are specific to iMG cells and to establish a cause-effect relationship.



  1. Sergii Gusev says:

    Thank you for the article. For the last 12 years, we are closely studying the level of proinflammatory cytokines, as the main mediators of neurodegenerative diseases. And in their practice many times convinced that a decrease in the level of proinflammatory cytokines in patients, correlates with a decrease in pain, anxiety, depression. The memory improves. Interpersonal relations are restored. The potential of vitality increases. Life gets “brighter colors”.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I have been suffering from fibromyalgia / chronic pain syndrome for nine years now. Is there any NEW protocols used to reduce the intensity of pain without using opiates? I have had to succumb to taking morphine 60 mgs twice a day for the past seven years just to get out of bed. Please tell me there’s something besides opiates and Norco to reduce the awful, disabling pain I feel on a daily basis. Thank you for any information you may have.

    • JP says:

      I was on morphine too, it took me almost six months to get off. I found that my pain actually decreased. In fact my doctor always have approved with vitamins and supplements. I had blood work done and I was Lowe in many vitamins and minerals. I now take no morphine and of course what am I taking. Vitamins:
      B,C,D,E. I take Calcium with maganese and Zinc. I take magnesium,curcurrium and CQ-10. This is a lot better for me. If I get into a flare I use Voltren-1% gel for pain. This is the not easy but I found out that I was aniemic again So now I have to go weekly to hospital for IV Iron Imfussions for 4 weeks. I have to keep my stress in check too.

  3. Terri says:


    If by chance you live in Fl or other state where medical marijuana has been legalized, try to see a Pain Dr licensed to prescribe it for certain conditions. I hope you can find a safer medication. You deserve to have a life outside your bed. Blessings to you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *