Metabolomics in chronic pain research

Eur J Pain. 2021 Feb;25(2):313-326. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1677. Epub 2020 Nov 5.


Background and objective: Metabolomics deals with the identification and quantification of small molecules (metabolites) in biological samples. As metabolite levels can reflect normal or altered metabolic pathways, their measurement provides information to improve the understanding, diagnosis and management of diseases. Despite its immense potential, metabolomics applications to pain research have been sparse. This paper describes current metabolomics techniques, reviews published human metabolomics pain research and compares successful metabolomics research in other areas of medicine with the goal of highlighting opportunities offered by metabolomics to advance pain medicine.

Databases and data treatment: Non-systematic review.

Results: Our search identified 19 studies that adopted a metabolomics approach in: fibromyalgia (7), chronic widespread pain (4), other musculoskeletal pain conditions (5), neuropathic pain (1), complex regional pain syndrome (1) and pelvic pain (1). The studies used either mass spectrometry or nuclear magnetic resonance. Most are characterized by small sample sizes. Some consistency has been found for alterations in glutamate and testosterone metabolism, and metabolic imbalances caused by the gut microbiome.

Conclusions: Metabolomics research in chronic pain is in its infancy. Most studies are at the pilot stage. Metabolomics research has been successful in other areas of medicine. These achievements should motivate investigators to expand metabolomics research to improve the understanding of the basic mechanisms of human pain, as well as provide tools to diagnose, predict and monitor chronic pain conditions. Metabolomics research can lead to the identification of biomarkers to support the development and testing of treatments, thereby facilitating personalized pain medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Chronic Pain* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics


  • Biomarkers