The impact of fibromyalgia on brain structure

Resume: Researchers delved into the gray and white matter of the brain and examined the consequences of fibromyalgia. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the team discovered reduced gray matter volume in the pain-processing areas of fibromyalgia patients.

In addition, the thalamus, a crucial node in the pain processing network, showed altered signal transmission. Remarkably, the study suggested that these brain changes might be reversible, influenced by factors such as activity levels and mental health.

Key Facts:

  1. The study found reduced gray matter volume in the pain processing areas of fibromyalgia patients.
  2. Altered signal transmission was observed in the thalamus of fibromyalgia patients, indicating altered pain signaling.
  3. The changes in brain structure correlated with patients’ pain perception and behavior, and intriguingly, they may be influenced by factors such as physical activity and mental health, suggesting possible reversibility.

Source: TO RUB

A research team led by Professor Martin Diers and Benjamin Mosch analyzed the magnetic resonance imaging data of 23 female patients with fibromyalgia and 21 healthy controls.

They wanted to examine the volume of the gray matter, the nerve cells, in different pain-processing areas of the brain, and the so-called white matter, which mainly consists of the fiber connections between the nerve cells through which signals are transmitted. .

“One of our goals was to find out whether the direction of diffusion of water molecules differs in certain parts of the brain, in other words, whether we can identify regional differences in signal transmission,” explains Benjamin Mosch.

This shows a woman's head.
The team eventually linked the results of the structural brain changes to perception and behavioral characteristics of the study participants. Credit: Neuroscience news

The researchers found gray matter volume changes mainly in the pain network of the brain, that is, in the regions responsible for processing and evaluating pain.

“In certain regions responsible for the inhibition of pain, we found a decrease in gray matter in the patients compared to the healthy subjects,” explains Benjamin Mosch. “In patients, the volume of these regions was significantly reduced.”

With regard to the transmission of signals, changes were found in the thalamus. The thalamus is considered an important hub in the processing of neuronal pain.

The white matter abnormalities in patients with fibromyalgia compared to healthy controls indicate an altered conduction of pain signals in patients with fibromyalgia.

Relationships between brain structure, perception and behavior

The team eventually linked the results of the structural brain changes to perception and behavioral characteristics of the study participants. The amount of reduced volume in a number of relevant brain regions is inversely related to the amount of perceived pain reported by the patients.

The researchers made an interesting observation when analyzing the correlation between depression or activity levels with the change in the volume of certain brain regions. The volume of the so-called putamen correlated negatively with the expression of depressive symptoms and positively with the activity level of the participants.

“This indicates that changes in the brain may not be permanent, but they can be influenced; in other words, they can be reversible, for example through an active daily life,” concludes Benjamin Mosch.

About this neurology and fibromyalgia research news

Author: Mike Driessen
Source: TO RUB
Contact: Meike Driessen – RUB
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Closed access.
“Brain Morphometric Changes in Fibromyalgia and the Impact of Psychometric and Clinical Factors: A Volumetric and Diffusion Tensor Imaging Study” by Martin Diers et al. Arthritis research and therapy


Brain morphometric changes in fibromyalgia and the impact of psychometric and clinical factors: a volumetric and diffusion-tensor imaging study


Previous studies have repeatedly found marked morphometric changes in the brain in patients with fibromyalgia (FM), primarily affecting gray and white matter abnormalities in areas related to sensory and affective pain processing. However, few studies to date have linked different types of structural changes and not much is known about behavioral and clinical determinants that could influence the onset and progression of such changes.


We used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to detect regional patterns of (micro)structural gray (GM) and white matter (WM) changes in 23 patients with FM compared to 21 healthy controls (HC ), while taking into account the influence of demographic, psychometric and clinical variables (age, symptom severity, duration of pain, heat pain threshold, depression scores).


VBM and DTI revealed striking patterns of brain morphometric changes in FM patients. Bilateral middle temporal gyrus (MTG), parahippocampal gyrus, left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), right putamen, right caudate nucleus, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) showed significantly reduced GM volumes. In contrast, increased GM volume was observed in the bilateral cerebellum and left thalamus. In addition, patients showed microstructural changes of WM connectivity within the medial lemniscus, corpus callosum, and tracts surrounding and connecting the thalamus. Sensory-discriminatory aspects of pain (pain severity, pain thresholds) mainly showed negative correlations with GM within bilateral putamen, pallidum, right midcingulate cortex (MCC), and multiple thalamic substructures, while chronicity of pain was negatively correlated with GM volumes within right insular cortex and left rolandic operculum. Affective-motivational aspects of pain (depressed mood, general activity) were related to GM and FA levels within bilateral putamen and thalamus.


Our results suggest a variety of different structural brain changes in FM, particularly affecting areas involved in pain and emotion processing, such as the thalamus, putamen and insula.

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