Brain inflammation has been an important topic of discussion and research, especially for patients with chronic pain. However, more recently brain inflammation has been seen and studied in fibromyalgia patients for the first time.
Research teams that led this study included: Daniel S. Albrecht, PhD, and Marco Loggia, PhD, with the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School who combined efforts with Anton Forsberg, PhD, with the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. With their combined efforts and examination, they were able to broaden the bounds of their studies. For the first time researchers can see widespread inflammation (glial cells) in the brains of fibromyalgia patients through the process of using two imaging techniques, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), or MR/PET scanning.
It is important for patients to have the validation they deserve, especially when certain symptoms or feelings may be dismissed in the medical world by doctors or other professionals. In fact, people are often led to believe that what they are experiencing is imaginary. However, by finding evidence of neurochemical changes in the brains of fibromyalgia patients, the bias or stigma that several of patients face may be reduced.
Please note I am not a doctor. Although this article has undergone extensive research, do not replace the following information with your doctor’s expertise or advice. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
What are glial cells?
Glial cells are the most abundant in the central nervous system. They surround the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. They support and protect the neurons. There are different types of glial cells found in the brain, including astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes.
How does it work?
Screening and observing the activation of glial cells is an important process during the study and imaging of the brain in patients with chronic pain. MR/PET is a process that combines two processes together.
An MRI does not use radiation. It offers structural and functional details of tissues through the use of powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer.
PET scans use specific dye containing radioactive tracers. These tracers collect in places where there is higher chemical activity, which means that it can be easier to discern certain conditions since they may demonstrate or have a higher level of chemical activity. The scan will demonstrate bright spots at the site of chemical activity. More specifically, it detects where the radiation is given off.
With the combined techniques of MR/PET scanning, researchers can document neuroinflammation in patients with chronic pain. More specifically, it can help detect whether or not fibromyalgia patients have activated glial cells as well, which will be further discussed in this article.
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Study
The team at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study conducted research in 2015 focusing on the activation of glial cells in patients with chronic pain. They successfully imaged neuroinflammation in the patients by using combined MR/PET scanning techniques. The team tested and hypothesized that fibromyalgia patients may have activated glial cells. They used a radiotracer that binds to the translocator protein (TSPO) within the study.
Karolinska Institutet Study
Similar to the previous study, the team at the Karolinska Institutet conducted a related approach. The research team investigated and observed the TSPO-binding PET tracer.
Both teams combined their studies and techniques within their study of fibromyalgia patients.
Evidently, researchers have seen brain inflammation in fibromyalgia patients for the first time through the use of combined MR/PET techniques. Fibromyalgia patients who were reported to have higher levels of fatigue showed higher TSPO levels in the brain. More specifically, it was found in a specific region of the brain that is connected with emotional processing, called cingulate gyrus. Therefore, glial activity may be related to the region in association with fatigue. Because of the discovery of more inflammation in fibromyalgia patients than the healthy controls, it can lead to future discoveries and more studies.
These findings are just the beginning. This research and evidence can help verify that the pain fibromyalgia patients face is not imaginary and what you are feeling and experiencing is real. Of course, you do not need someone to tell you this, but it can help broaden the scientific and medical field. This can lead to future studies and more observations. Because there is not a cure or treatment for fibromyalgia, studies focusing on brain inflammation in fibromyalgia patients may help find a way to relieve certain symptoms.