Possible role for glutamic acid decarboxylase in fibromyalgia symptoms: a conceptual model for chronic pain

Caris T Fitzgerald, Lawrence P Carter
Medical Hypotheses 2011, 77 (3): 409-15
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a condition of chronic generalized musculoskeletal pain that is thought to be a disorder of central pain sensitization. A number of neurotransmitters in the ascending and descending pain pathways have been implicated in FM including glutamate and GABA. Glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) is the rate-limiting enzyme in the conversion of glutamate to GABA and decreased expression or activity of this enzyme could result in an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the ascending and descending pain pathways. Specifically, the expression and activity of the predominant isoform of GAD (GAD65) is influenced by several factors that are associated with FM such as female sex, poor diet, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and stress. We hypothesize that decreased GAD expression and/or activity plays a role in the development and exacerbation of FM leading to impairments in the three common domains of FM symptomatology: increased pain (hyperalgesia and allodynia), disrupted sleep, and disturbances in mood (anxiety and depression). There are several lines of evidence that appear to support a role of GAD in FM. First, the defining symptom of FM is pain and GAD65 knockout mice have been shown to exhibit supraspinal hyperalgesia. Second, GAD has been implicated in disorders of muscle stiffness and rigidity and morning stiffness is a common symptom of FM. Third, stress, depression, and anxiety, which are often comorbid with FM, decrease GAD activity. Fourth, FM is associated with poor sleep, specifically disrupted non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the pharmacological induction of NREM sleep is associated with the activation of GAD-containing neurons in the preoptic hypothalamus. Fifth, FM is more commonly diagnosed in women than men and the activity of GAD is reduced by low levels of its cofactor pyroxidine, which is less well-absorbed by women and can be further lowered by diet, tobacco, and alcohol intake. Sixth, FM patients tend to be overweight or obese and caloric restriction and exercise have been shown to increase GAD expression and activity. These six general lines of evidence suggest that GAD expression and/or activity might underlie the pathophysiology of FM. If this hypothesis is supported by future empirical studies, our understanding of the etiology of FM could be greatly improved. Moreover, behavioral and pharmacological therapies that modulate or mimic the effects of GAD might hold promise for the treatment of this debilitating and poorly understood disorder.


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