Fibromyalgia is associated with disrupted emotional processing and emotional modulation of pain, but intact descending emotional modulation of spinal nociception.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is characterized by widespread pain, as well as affective disturbance (eg, depression). Given that emotional processes are known to modulate pain, a disruption of emotion and emotional modulation of pain and nociception may contribute to FM. The present study used a well-validated affective picture-viewing paradigm to study emotional processing and emotional modulation of pain and spinal nociception. Participants were 18 individuals with FM, 18 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and 19 healthy pain-free controls (HC). Mutilation, neutral, and erotic pictures were presented in 4 blocks; 2 blocks assessed only physiological-emotional reactions (ie, pleasure/arousal ratings, corrugator electromyography, startle modulation, skin conductance) in the absence of pain, and 2 blocks assessed emotional reactivity and emotional modulation of pain and the nociceptive flexion reflex (NFR, a physiological measure of spinal nociception) evoked by suprathreshold electric stimulations over the sural nerve. In general, mutilation pictures elicited displeasure, corrugator activity, subjective arousal, and sympathetic activation, whereas erotic pictures elicited pleasure, subjective arousal, and sympathetic activation. However, FM was associated with deficits in appetitive activation (eg, reduced pleasure/arousal to erotica). Moreover, emotional modulation of pain was observed in HC and RA, but not FM, even though all 3 groups evidenced modulation of NFR. Additionally, NFR thresholds were not lower in the FM group, indicating a lack of spinal sensitization. Together, these results suggest that FM is associated with a disruption of supraspinal processes associated with positive affect and emotional modulation of pain, but not brain-to-spinal cord circuitry that modulates spinal nociceptive processes.