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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Cerebrospinal fluid levels of opioid peptides in fibromyalgia and chronic low back pain

James N Baraniuk2*, Gail Whalen2, Jill Cunningham2 and Daniel J Clauw1

Author Affiliations

1 Center for the Advancement of Clinical Research, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI USA

2 Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, Room B107, Lower Level Kober-Cogan Building, Georgetown University, 3800 Reservoir Road, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20007-2197, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2004, 5:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-5-48

Published: 9 December 2004



The mechanism(s) of nociceptive dysfunction and potential roles of opioid neurotransmitters are unresolved in the chronic pain syndromes of fibromyalgia and chronic low back pain.


History and physical examinations, tender point examinations, and questionnaires were used to identify 14 fibromyalgia, 10 chronic low back pain and 6 normal control subjects. Lumbar punctures were performed. Met-enkephalin-Arg6-Phe7 (MEAP) and nociceptin immunoreactive materials were measured in the cerebrospinal fluid by radioimmunoassays.


Fibromyalgia (117.6 pg/ml; 85.9 to 149.4; mean, 95% C.I.; p = 0.009) and low back pain (92.3 pg/ml; 56.9 to 127.7; p = 0.049) groups had significantly higher MEAP than the normal control group (35.7 pg/ml; 15.0 to 56.5). MEAP was inversely correlated to systemic pain thresholds. Nociceptin was not different between groups. Systemic Complaints questionnaire responses were significantly ranked as fibromyalgia > back pain > normal. SF-36 domains demonstrated severe disability for the low back pain group, intermediate results in fibromyalgia, and high function in the normal group.


Fibromyalgia was distinguished by higher cerebrospinal fluid MEAP, systemic complaints, and manual tender points; intermediate SF-36 scores; and lower pain thresholds compared to the low back pain and normal groups. MEAP and systemic pain thresholds were inversely correlated in low back pain subjects. Central nervous system opioid dysfunction may contribute to pain in fibromyalgia.