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Exposure to Cold Unmasks Potential Biomarkers of Fibromyalgia Syndrome Reflecting Insufficient Sympathetic Responses to Stress

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Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronically painful condition whose symptoms are widely reported to be exacerbated by stress. We hypothesized that female patients with FMS differ from pain-free female controls in their sympathetic responses, a fact that may unmask important biomarkers and factors that contribute to the etiology of FMS.

Materials and Methods:

In a pilot study, blood pressure (BP), skin temperature, thermogenic activity, circulating glucose, and pain sensitivity of 13 individuals with FMS and 11 controls at room temperature (24°C) were compared with that after exposure to cold (19°C).


When measured at 24°C, BP, skin temperature, blood glucose, and brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity, measured using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron-emission tomography/computed tomography, did not differ between controls and individuals with FMS. However, after cold exposure (19°C), BP and BAT activity increased in controls but not in individuals with FMS; skin temperature on the calf and arm decreased in controls more than in individiuals with FMS; and circulating glucose was lower in individiuals with FMS than in controls. Pain sensitivity did not change during the testing interval in response to cold.


The convergence of the effect of cold on 4 relatively simple measures of thermogenic, cardiovascular, and metabolic activity, each regulated by sympathetic activity, strongly indicate that individuals with FMS have impaired sympathetic responses to stress that are observable and highly significant even when measured in extraordinarily small sample populations. If insufficient sympathetic responses to stress are linked to FMS, stress may unmask and maximize these potential clinical biomarkers of FMS and be related to its etiology.
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Keywords: adipose tissue; glucose metabolism; magnetic resonance imaging; positron-emission tomography; temperature regulation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Minneapolis VA Health Care System, Departments of Psychiatry 2: Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, MN 3: Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Minneapolis VA Health Care System 4: School of Science and Technology, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA 5: Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Publication date: May 1, 2019

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