Fibromyalgia May Have Links to the Immune System, Not the Brain: Study


Jul 5, 2021


Image Credit: Istock

Around one in 40 people worldwide live with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain, fatigue, mood disorders, and sleep problems. Researchers recently discovered possible reasons for the condition, suggesting fibromyalgia may be associated with irregularities in the immune system rather than the brain.

“The implications of this study are profound. Establishing that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder will transform how we view the condition and should pave the way for more effective treatments for the millions of people affected. Dr. David Andersson, the study’s primary investigator from King’s College London, said in a statement,

“Previous exploration of therapies has been hampered by our limited understanding of the illness. This should now change,” Andersson added.

It is estimated that 2-4% of people in India may be affected by fibromyalgia; the numbers are much higher globally. “It [fibromyalgia] has a profound effect on the quality of life of the patient because it interferes with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities and affects cognitive functioning such as the ability to think, to reason, to remember,” the National Health Portal noted.

This research, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, was carried out by tracing the impact of fibromyalgia symptoms on mice. Scientists injected mice with antibodies from people with fibromyalgia, and observed increased muscle sensitivity and reduced movement grip strength in the mice as a result. This suggests that patients’ antibodies are a significant contributor to fibromyalgia — linking the condition directly to the human immune system, where antibodies are found.

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Researchers also discovered that the mice injected with fibromyalgia antibodies recovered after a few weeks once the antibodies had left their system.

The results suggest a potential breakthrough in therapies for fibromyalgia that involve reducing specific antibody levels. These therapies are already available and used to treat other autoimmune diseases.

“Treatment for fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is focussed on gentle aerobic exercises, as well as drug and psychological therapies designed to manage pain, although these have proven ineffective in most patients and have left behind an enormous unmet clinical need,” Andersson noted.

As of now, researchers are intent on pursuing more research on symptoms linked to the condition. “Antibodies from people with FMS living in two different countries, the U.K. and Sweden, gave similar results, which adds enormous strength to our findings,” Professor Camilla Svensson, the study’s primary investigator from Karolinska Institute, added in a statement.

“The next step will be to identify what factors the symptom-inducing antibodies bind to. This will help us not only in terms of developing novel treatment strategies for FMS, but also of blood-based tests for diagnosis, which are missing today,” she said.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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