Brain inflammation has been an important topic of discussion and research, especially for patients with chronic pain. However, more recently, inflammation of the brain has been observed and studied for the first time in patients with fibromyalgia.
The 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. Through their combined effort and examination, they were able to expand the boundaries 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 computed tomography. positron emission (PET) or MR/PET scanning.
It’s 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 many patients face can be reduced.
Please note that I am not a doctor. Although this article has been thoroughly researched, do not substitute the following information with the expertise or advice of your physician. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
WHAT ARE GLIAL CELLS?
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Glial cells are most abundant in the central nervous system. They surround nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. They support and protect neurons. There are different types of glial cells present in the brain, including astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes.
HOW IT WORKS?
Screening and observing glial cell activation is an important process when studying and imaging 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 dyes containing radioactive tracers. These tracers collect in places with higher chemical activity, which means that it may be easier to discern certain conditions because they may demonstrate or have a higher level of chemical activity. The scan will highlight bright spots at the site of chemical activity. Specifically, it detects where the radiation is emitted.
Using combined MR/PET scanning techniques, researchers can document neuroinflammation in patients with chronic pain. More specifically, it can help detect if fibromyalgia patients have also activated glial cells, which will be discussed in more detail in this article.
MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL (MGH) STUDY
The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study team conducted research in 2015 that focused on glial cell activation in patients with chronic pain. They successfully imaged neuroinflammation in patients 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) as part of the study.
CAROLINE INSTITUTE STUDY
Similar to the previous study, the team from Karolinska Institutet conducted a related approach. The research team studied and observed the PET tracer binding to TSPO.
The two teams combined their studies and techniques within their study on patients with fibromyalgia.
Clearly, researchers saw brain inflammation in fibromyalgia patients for the first time through the use of combined MR/PET techniques. Fibromyalgia patients who had higher levels of fatigue had higher levels of TSPO in the brain. Specifically, it was found in a specific region of the brain that is linked to emotional processing, called the cingulate gyrus. Therefore, glial activity may be region-related in association with fatigue. Due to the finding of more inflammation in fibromyalgia patients than healthy controls, this may lead to future findings and more studies.
These results are just the start. This research and evidence can help verify that the pain patients experience with fibromyalgia is not imaginary and that what you feel and feel is real. Of course, you don’t need someone to tell you this, but it can help expand the scientific and medical field. This may lead to future studies and further observations. Because there is no cure or treatment for fibromyalgia, studies focusing on brain inflammation in fibromyalgia patients may help find a way to relieve some symptoms.