Although stress plays an important role in chronic widespread pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, the underlying mechanism has remained elusive. We have recently demonstrated, in a model of chronic widespread pain, that prolonged enhancement of immune mediator hyperalgesia, induced by unpredictable sound stress, requires a contribution of both the sympathoadrenal (epinephrine) and the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (corticosterone) neuroendocrine stress axes. Because this stress protocol produced sustained elevation of plasma epinephrine, in the current study we tested the hypothesis that the sympathoadrenal axis also plays a role in maintenance of symptoms in this model of chronic widespread pain. After establishment, adrenal medullectomy abolished the enhancement of epinephrine-induced cutaneous and muscle hyperalgesia. Administration of stress levels of epinephrine to adrenal medullectomized rats reconstituted the pain phenotype. These observations suggest that the sympathoadrenal stress axis plays a major role in the induction as well as maintenance of stress-induced enhancement of mechanical hyperalgesia, mediated by prolonged elevation of circulating epinephrine.
Perspective: We present data showing mechanical hyperalgesia persisting for up to 28 days after exposure to sound stress, with evidence that the sympathoadrenal axis mediator epinephrine plays a major role. These findings could have clinical implications with regard to novel potential treatments for chronic widespread pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia.