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TOBeATPAIN Project 3: Neuroinflammation and pain processing in fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a widespread pain syndrome affecting circa 2% of the population. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we documented functional and structural cerebral abnormalities in FM patients associated with inability to activate endogenous pain inhibitory mechanisms, thus leading to pain amplification. We also found signs of neuroinflammation in the cerebrospinal fluid of FM patients, suggesting glial activation. Increased expression of translocator protein (TSPO) is a marker for glial activation that is evaluated by positron emission tomography (PET) using TSPO ligand (PBR28). We also found that a functional polymorphism affecting the binding affinity to TSPO is associated with pain and symptom severity in FM patients.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 764860.


ESR 3 will study FM patients and healthy controls to:

  1. Examine how the functional polymorphism of the TSPO gene (rs6971) affects cerebral pain processing (fMRI);
  2. Assess if and how this genetic polymorphism affects cerebral metabolism in pain related areas (magnetic resonance spectroscopy);
  3. Use PET to study glia cell activation using two ligands:
    a) one mainly related to microglia activation (TSPO/PBR28) and b) one mainly related to astrocyte activation (deprenyl).

Expected results

Delineation of TSPO-related mechanisms on cerebral pain processing and cerebral metabolism in FM patients and healthy subjects in relation to microglia and astrocyte activation.

Secondment(s): Kancera (1 month). Training in pharmacokinetics, product development strategy, product launch & management and public relations. MAB (1 month). Training on business management and patent process. UKW (4 months). Analysis of skin innervation and inflammation as additional peripheral pain generator.

Our Partners

UKW, Universitätsklinikum Würzburg logo

UKW, Universitätsklinikum Würzburg

Mabtech logo

Mabtech AB

Project status: Ongoing