Researchers at the University of Michigan believe shortened leukocyte telomere length is associated with pain in fibromyalgia. Afton L.Hassett, PsyD, associate research scientist at the Chronic Pain & Fatigue Research Center in Ann Arbor says, “Telomeres are protein complexes that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes. This is the first study to show that telomere length is associated with clinical pain alone, as well as experimental pain. I will caution, however, that this was a highly exploratory study.”

Telomere length has been linked with many age-related illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis,  as well as some types of cancers. Smoking, body mass index, stress and depression may also affect it.

The study evaluated 66 women with fibromyalgia, and 22 healthy female controls. After controlling for age, pain was found to be linked with shorter telomere length, according to Dr. Hassett, who reported the findings at the 2012 American Society of Anesthesiologists meeting. “People with the shortest telomere lengths were by far the most sensitive to pain”, said Dr. Hassett. So why is the telomere length so significant? “The predominant theory is that decreases in cortisol levels may create an environment where there’s greater low-level inflammatory activity. Ultimately, we would like to verify these results in a larger study and even consider chronic pain patients with other diagnoses,” she said.

W. Michael Hooten, MD, associate professor of anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic called the study fascinating. “This is a unique avenue of investigation that could broaden the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of chronic pain. It’s a relatively small sample, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in a larger group of patients, to see if the findings can be replicated.”     Pain Medicine News    September 2013

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