Background: Because of the subjective nature of current pain assessments, limited efficacy of treatment options and risks associated with opioid abuse and diversion, the need for objective data to assist with chronic pain management has never been greater. Successful identification of mechanistic biomarkers would not only improve our understanding and ability to accurately diagnose pain disorders but would also facilitate the development of disease-modifying pain drugs.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to determine and evaluate the prevalence of abnormal biomarker findings in a population of patients with chronic pain.
Study design: Retrospective, observational study.
Setting: Data analysis of biomarker test results was performed at a single industry site (Ethos Research & Development, Newport, KY) from clinical samples collected and analyzed from July to December 2018.
Methods: A novel, pain-specific biomarker test panel that evaluates biomarkers of systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, neurotransmitter turnover, and micronutrient status was employed to determine the prevalence of abnormal findings in 17,834 unique patient samples analyzed at a national reference laboratory (Ethos Laboratories, Newport, KY). Patient biomarker results were considered abnormal if they were outside of the 95% confidence interval reference ranges established using a healthy population of donors who had no history of chronic pain or opioid use.
Results: A total of 77% of patients with chronic pain exhibited at least one abnormal biomarker result (n = 13,765). The most common abnormal biomarker finding was elevated quinolinic acid, which was observed in 29% of patients (n = 5,107). Elevated pyroglutamate, indicative of glutathione depletion, was observed in 19% of patients (n = 3,314). Elevated xanthurenic acid, indicative of vitamin B6 insufficiency, was observed in 17% of patients (3,025). Elevated levels of the acrolein metabolite 3-hydroxypropyl mercapturic acid were observed in 21% of patients (n = 3,667). Elevated methylmalonic acid, indicative of a vitamin B12 deficiency, was observed in 10% of patients (n = 1,827), whereas abnormally low levels of neurotransmitter metabolites were observed in 8% of patients (n = 1,456).
Limitations: Medications and/or conditions other than those associated with chronic pain were not evaluated as potential causes of abnormal biomarker findings.
Conclusions: A novel biomarker assay that measures objective correlates to the neurobiological processes underlying chronic pain reveals a high prevalence of atypical biochemistry in a population of patients with pain. Abnormal biomarker findings presented here provide objective support for the role of cytokine-mediated inflammation, oxidative stress, abnormally low production of neurotransmitters, and micronutrient deficiencies in the development or worsening of chronic pain. This unique panel of functional pain biomarkers provides practitioners with novel, objective insight into the underlying causes of pain, which will pave the way for truly personalized pain medicine. Correcting abnormal biomarker findings with targeted, nonopioid therapies to improve patient function and alleviate pain potentially could lessen the opioid burden and drastically reduce health care costs.
Key words: Biomarker, pain, inflamation, oxidative stress, neurotransmitter, micronutrient deficiency, Kynurenine Pathway.