A new study finds that patients with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread and chronic pain, have more sensitive brain networks than healthy people. This abnormal hypersensitivity, called explosive synchronization, was studied by researchers at the University of Michigan and the Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea. We talk about the results of the research published in the journal Scientific Reports with Carlo Selmi, head of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at Humanitas and professor at the University of Milan.
A biological base
Fibromyalgia affects 2-4% of the general population, with a clear prevalence of women, and it is invariably associated with the negativity of any available diagnostic or instrumental tests. “For the first time, research shows that hypersensitivity experienced by patients with chronic pain can result from hypersensitive brain networks,” said one of the authors, Richard Harris, Ph.D. and associate professor of anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine with the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.
In the presence of “explosive synchronization”, a small stimulus can lead to a synchronized reaction with dramatic implications. This phenomenon has been studied for a long time in physics rather than medicine and according to researchers it will be a promising avenue to explore in the continuous research of the causes of fibromyalgia.
Contrary to the normal process of gradually connecting different brain centers after a stimulus, patients with chronic pain have conditions that predispose them to explosive connections, similar to the dynamics of overloaded electrical networks.
The “electrically unstable” test results
Researchers recorded electrical activity in the brain of 10 female participants with fibromyalgia. The results of the reference EEG showed hypersensitive and unstable brain networks and a strong correlation between the degree of explosive synchronization and the self-reported intensity of chronic pain reported by patients at the time of the EEG test.
The research team and Lee’s collaborators in South Korea then used computer models of brain activity to compare the stimulus responses of patients with fibromyalgia under normal conditions. As expected, in the presence of fibromyalgia it verified a greater sensitivity to electrical stimulation.
Possible therapeutic scenarios
Research findings may guide future treatments for fibromyalgia. The phenomenon of explosive synchronization can be studied outside the brain, with the help of a computer so that researchers have the opportunity to test the dynamics using explanations to develop non-invasive brain modulation therapies to treat chronic pain. Caution should be encouraged, however, as these treatments are only theoretical today.