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Abnormal immune system response in the brain of women with Fibromyalgia after experimental endotoxin challenge

Mueller, C;Jordan, I;Jones, C;Lawson, P;Younger, JW;


The pathophysiology of fibromyalgia (FM) is thought to include an overactive immune system, leading to central nervous system sensitizationallodynia, and hyperalgesia. We aimed to test this theory using an experimental immune system activation procedure and neuroimaging with magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI).


Twelve women with FM and 13 healthy women (healthy controls; HC) received 0.3 or 0.4 ng/kg endotoxin and underwent MRSI before and after the infusion. Changes in brain levels of choline (CHO), myo-inositol (MI), N-Acetylaspartate (NAA), and MRSI-derived brain temperature were compared between groups and dosage levels using mixed analyses of variance.


Significant group-by-time interactions in brain temperature were found in the right thalamus. Post-hoc testing revealed that brain temperature increased by 0.55 °C in the right thalamus in FM (t(10) = -3.483, p = 0.006), but not in HCs (p > 0.05). Dose-by-time interactions revealed brain temperature increases in the right insula after 0.4 ng/kg (t(12) = -4.074, p = 0.002), but not after 0.3 ng/kg (p > 0.05). Dose-by-time interactions revealed decreased CHO in the right Rolandic operculum after 0.4 ng/kg endotoxin (t(13) = 3.242, p = 0.006) but not 0.3 ng/kg. In the left paracentral lobule, CHO decreased after 0.3 ng/kg (t(9) = 2.574, p = 0.030) but not 0.4 ng/kg. Dose-by-time interactions affected MI in several brain regions. MI increased after 0.3 ng/kg in the right Rolandic operculum (t(10) = -2.374, p = 0.039), left supplementary motor area (t(9) = -2.303, p = 0.047), and left occipital lobe (t(10) = -3.757, p = 0.004), with no changes after 0.4 ng/kg (p > 0.05). Group-by time interactions revealed decreased NAA in the left Rolandic operculum in FM (t(13) = 2.664, p = 0.019), but not in HCs (p > 0.05). A dose-by-time interaction showed decreased NAA in the left paracentral lobule after 0.3 ng/kg (t(9) = 3.071, p = 0.013) but not after 0.4 ng/kg (p > 0.05). In the combined sample, there was a main effect of time whereby NAA decreased in the left anterior cingulate (F[1,21] = 4.458, p = 0.047) and right parietal lobe (F[1,21] = 5.457, p = 0.029).


We found temperature increases and NAA decreases in FM that were not seen in HCs, suggesting that FM patients may have abnormal immune responses in the brain. The 0.3 and 0.4 ng/kg had differential effects on brain temperature and metabolites, with neither dose effecting a stronger response overall. There is insufficient evidence provided by the study to determine whether FM involves abnormal central responses to low-level immune challenges.