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Microglia In Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Thursday 18 February 2016
Microglia in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Microglia are tiny cells in your brain and spinal cord that form the first-line of defense in the central nervous system's (CNS) dedicated immune system. Microglia are to move freely around the CNS to sites of injury or infection. They serve as an alarm system, alerting other parts of the immune system to the problem, as well as being an important part of the response to the problem.
As with other types of immune response, microglial activity can lead to inflammation.
Inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process, but if it becomes chronic, it can lead to myriad health problems.
The term "glia" is used to describe the white matter of the brain, as opposed to the gray matter that is made of of neurons (cells that conduct electrical signals.) The word literally means "neural glue." Glial cells come in multiple forms and perform multiple different support function for neurons, including the clean-up of used chemicals (a process called reuptake) and insulating neurons (as myelin sheaths), which is essential for them to function properly.
(Damage to myelin sheaths is a key feature of multiple sclerosis.)
In medical science, microglia are a relatively new discovery and there's much we still don't understand about them. However, research has shown that they're involved in nearly all neurological disease.
In fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, microglia may be one of the factors involved in cognitive dysfunction (a.k.a. fibro fog or brain fog.) Some researchers (Theoharides) hypothesize that the presence of certain molecules may drive microglial activation, which increases local inflammation and impairs brain function at the site.
A 2014 (Yasui) study suggests that chronic microglial activation in the spine may be responsible, at least in part, for two abnormal pain types in chronic fatigue syndrome: hyperalgesia in the muscles and mechanical allodynia, both of which are key features of fibromyalgia as well.
Hyperalgesia is the amplification of pain by the central nervous system, essentially "turning up the volume."
Allodynia is pain from something that normally doesn't cause pain. Mechanical allodynia is pain caused specifically by movement, such as massage or the brush of clothing against the skin.
Other research (Graeber) suggests that microglia are also involved in tactile allodynia (pain from light pressure) and may contribute to or cause pain by mechanisms other than inflammation.
(What these mechanisms are is still unknown.)
Genetic research (Light) in people with fibromyalgia points to the possibility that certain genes may contribute to pain by heightening the activity of spinal microglia.
These studies not only help us understand what's causing the symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, but help us identify targets for future treatments. At least one drug that's believed to limit the activity of microglia – low-dose naltrexone – is already under investigation for these conditions.
Graeber MB, Christie MJ. Experimental neurology. 2012 Apr;234(2):255-61. Multiple mechanisms of microglia: a gatekeeper's contribution to pain states.
Light KC, et al. Pain research and treatment. 2012;2012:427869. Genetics and gene experession involving stress and distress pathways in fibromyalgia with and without comorbid chronic fatigue syndrome.
Tambuyzer BR, Ponsaerts P, Nouwen EJ. Journal of leukocyte biology. 2009 Mar;85(3):352-70. Microglia: gatekeepers of central nervous system immunology.
Theoharides TC, et al. Frontiers in neuroscience. 2015 Jul 3;9:225. Brain "fog," inflammation and obesity; Key aspects of neuropsychiatric disorders improved by luteolin.
Yasui M, et al. Glia. 2014 Sep;62(9):1407-17. A chronic fatigue syndrome model demonstrates mechanical allodynia and muscular hyperalgesia via spinal microglial activation.
The above originally appeared here.
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