A study published in the January, 2007 issue of The Journal of Pain found that there was a chemical difference between the brains of fibromyalgia patients and health ones. That difference is that fibromyalgia patients produce less dopamine in the areas of the brain that process pain.
Dopamine is a chemical produced by the body that acts as a neurotransmitter believed to be involved in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation and reward, sleep, mood, attention, and learning.
The study was very small, including only 6 female fibromyalgia patients to 8 healthy women of the same age. Brain activity was measured with a positron emission tomography tracer (PET), a nuclear medicine imaging technique which produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body.
The PET scans showed reduced neural activity in several regions of the brain. The Researchers believe the reduced activity of dopamine neurons is caused by environmental factors (including chronic stress) and genetic factors.
Other studies have shown that fibromyalgia is linked with reductions in gray matter in the brain. The cause of this reduced gray matter was not understood.
Now a new study published in The Journal of Pain has found that dopamine may be the culprit in the reduction in gray matter.
Researchers from the Louisiana State University studied magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data of 30 women with fibromyalgia and compared these to 20 healthy women that were the same age.
Analysis confirmed earlier studies that found that fibromyalgia patients have reduced gray matter density. They also found that there was a significant relationship between dopamine levels and gray matter in those parts of the brain where dopamine acts as the neurotransmitter. The report’s authors concluded that the relationship between dopamine levels and gray matter density provide new insights to a potential mechanism that explains some of the abnormal brain structure associated with fibromyalgia.