Fibromyalgia Pain Triggers: Exploring Explosive Synchronization (ES)

Study Connects Hyperreactive Brain Networks and the Chronic Pain of Fibromyalgia

The brains of fibromyalgia (FM) sufferers may be electrically unstable and oversensitive according to findings from new research conducted by a team from University of Michigan and South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology. This abnormal hypersensitivity is termed explosive synchronization (ES), a network phenomenon that is well known in nonmedical settings, but not well studied in the human brain. ES is a condition in which a small perturbation triggers a dramatic synchronized reaction as with a power grid failure or a seizure. First author UnCheol Lee, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine, commented, “As opposed to the normal process of gradually linking up different centers in the brain after a stimulus, chronic pain patients have conditions that predispose them to linking up in an abrupt, explosive manner.” The findings were published online last week in the journal Scientific Reports.

The research team studied EEG recordings of brain activity in 10 female patients with fibromyalgia, noting the presence of hypersensitivity and instability. They also noted a positive correlation between the extent of ES conditions and the patient-reported intensity of their pain. In collaboration with colleagues at Pohang University, the team then developed computer models of brain activity in both fibromyalgia patients and normal conditions. The FM model was found to be more sensitive to electrical stimulation than the model without ES characteristics. The study abstract concludes “The model and empirical data analysis provide convergent evidence that ES may be a network mechanism of FM hypersensitivity.” The findings are significant to the development of future treatments for FM, since further modeling may identify brain regions that could be targeted via noninvasive brain modulation techniques, according to the authors.

Read a news story about the study findings.

The journal article may be read here.

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