Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain disorder that is very prevalent in the general population (approximately 5%). Accumulating evidence suggests that FM is associated with central pain processing abnormalities, ie, central sensitization. Several previous studies of chronic pain patients, including FM, have shown gray matter atrophy of brain areas associated with sensory and affective pain processing. These findings, however, have not been confirmed in all FM studies. In this study, we investigated gray matter volumes of brain areas associated with pain-related areas of FM patients identified by functional brain imaging. Using voxel-based morphometric (VBM) analysis of magnetic resonance brain images, we compared 19 pain-related brain areas of 14 female FM patients and 11 healthy controls (NC). We found that FM patients had significantly less gray matter volumes than NC in 3 of these brain regions, including the anterior and mid-cingulate, as well as mid-insular cortices. Importantly, FM patients demonstrated neither global gray matter atrophy nor gray matter changes associated with depression, as shown in some studies. Using a more stringent analysis than other VBM studies, we provide evidence for decreased gray matter volumes in a number of pain-related brain areas in FM. Although the mechanisms for these gray matter changes are presently unclear, they may contribute to some of the core features of this chronic disorder including affective disturbances and chronic widespread pain.
Perspective: Increasing evidence supports the association of chronic pain with accelerated gray matter atrophy in pain disorders like low back pain, IBS, and FM syndrome. However, cause-effect relationships between chronic pain and decreased gray matter volumes have not been established yet and will require future prospective studies.
Copyright © 2011 American Pain Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.