Fibromyalgia Patients Have Decreased Brain Connectivity in Some Regions, Study Reports

Fibromyalgia Patients Have Decreased Brain Connectivity in Some Regions, Study Reports

Using specialized magnetic resonance imaging technology, a study from Taiwan found that patients with fibromyalgia have decreased brain connectivity in specific regions, including the insula and the default mode network.

The insula is part of the cerebral cortex and has been proposed to act as a switching core that relays sensory information. The default mode network (DMN) is a network of interacting brain regions that is normally active when a person is in a “restful” state and not focused on a particular task.

Patients with fibromyalgia are hypersensitive to pain, and studies have shown increased pain responses in the pain network in the brain, including the insula and DMN regions.

Technical limitations have prevented the study of in-depth changes in brain connectivity.

The study, “Altered insula–default mode network connectivity in fibromyalgia: a resting-state magneto encephalographic study,” was recently published in the Journal of Headache and Pain.

A research team used a specialized type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG). This technique maps brain activity by recording magnetic fields produced by electrical currents occurring naturally in the brain by using very sensitive magnetometers.

Twenty-eight patients with fibromyalgia were enrolled in the study, along with 28 age- and sex-matched controls. All study participants were from 20 to 60 years old.

All patients with fibromyalgia completed a questionnaire on the distribution, intensity, and duration of their pain, along with related symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, lower abdominal pain, and depression.

For each participant, the researchers determined the number of tender points as well as the total tenderness score.

At resting state, MEG activities of the study participants were analyzed at 1–40 Hz for functional brain connectivity between the insula and the DMN. The lower the number of Hz, the slower the brain activity or the slower the frequency of the activity.

Results showed patients with fibromyalgia reported more tender points and higher total tenderness score.

These patients also had a decreased resting-state insula–DMN connectivity in all frequencies examined, but this was only significantly different from healthy controls at a specific frequency, the theta band (4–8 Hz; theta brainwaves occur most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation).

“Our results demonstrate that the insula–DMN connectivity in  [fibromyalgia] was significantly decreased at the theta band. A recent review identified the theta oscillation as the main change that occurs in brain rhythm during chronic pain,” the researchers wrote.

“The present findings of decreased theta connectivity between the insula and the DMN may reflect persistent pain encoding associated with the chronic pain state of [fibromyalgia].”

Additionally, in patients with fibromyalgia, the right insula–DMN connectivity at the beta band (13–25 Hz; beta brainwaves dominate the state of consciousness when a person is in an alert state) was negatively correlated with the number of tender points and the total tenderness score; while at the delta band (1–4 Hz; brainwaves during sleep) it was negatively correlated with Fibromyalgia Symptom Severity and functional disability.

“Our present findings highlight the complex role of neural synchrony between the insula and the DMN in pain, emotional, and cognitive processing,” researchers wrote.

“We confirmed the frequency-specific reorganization of the insula–DMN connectivity in [fibromyalgia]. The clinical relevance of this connectivity change may warrant future studies to elucidate its causal relationship and potential as a neurological signature for [fibromyalgia,” they added.

Additionally, the team suggests that MEG may serve as an objective measure of clinical pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

10 comments

  1. Brain is a most important part of our system. If you are healthy from body but mentally abnormal then automatically your body won’t work basically there are connections in brain that run body parts. That’s why whenever you feel any problem in brain you should immediately consider MRI. It provides the best view which helps the doctor in treatment.

  2. I am 78 years old. I have had fibromyalgia for over 40 years, even before it had a name. I recently had an MRI that showed early stages of Alzheimer. I wonder if “fibro fog” progresses to this, if there is a connection? I also noticed Canada has approved a new drug for fibro. USA hasn’t approved it, can it be purchased from Canada. It’s been years since a new med has been approved. I have been on Lyrica forever with little effect anymore. A new med. would be so appreciated.

    • Gary J Moses says:

      Hi Barbara, can you recall the name of the drug for me please? I could do some research and see if it is available in the UK. Many thanks, Gaz.

      • Suzie says:

        I am a well educated person from one of the top Universities of the country….I love research….for me the most brilliant minds in the world translate their insights in plain speak and can communicate so it benefits our quality of life….just saying…..

  3. I starting having ringing in my ears in January 2017. Is their a connection between Tinnitus and my Fibromyalgia. I have been dealing with Fibro. for over 16 years. I am not dealing with the ringing very well, and I have been scanned and checked by doctors. I feel like I never rest. The sound is always there and my memory is getting really bad and my depression is a constant battle.

    • Rachel says:

      I also have tinnitus. It is very difficult to deal with the high pitched ringing sound that NEVER goes away. I went to a hearing specialist and I had scans done. Dealing with fibromyalgia and all the symptoms is frustrating. If I talk about it, I feel like I am complaining so I don’t talk about how it affects me. I also suffer from depression and anxiety. What I try to do is be thankful for what I do have – love of family, my cat and most importantly my faith. Gentle hugs

  4. Mary-Carol Schley says:

    My fibromyalgia is caused by an allergy to formaldehyde. I believe that that is the real cause. Formaldehyde is in everything. Ask your doctor to give you a prescription for prednisone for a week. Nearly all of my upper back and shoulder pain is gone!

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