Research Roundup: Clues to the Mystery of Fibromyalgia and More

Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

More Clues to the Mystery of Fibromyalgia

Researchers from King’s College London, the University of Liverpool and the Karolinska Institute found that many of the symptoms in fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) are the result of antibodies that increase the activity of pain-sensing nerves throughout the body. This would make fibromyalgia essentially an autoimmune disease, rather than the current theory that it originates in the brain. They found that the symptoms, increased pain sensitivity, muscle weakness, reduced movement, and reduced number of small nerve fibers in the skin, are all associated with the antibodies. Working with mice, they injected antibodies from people living with FMS and the mice quickly became sensitive to pressure and cold and had reduced movement grip strength. Mice injected with antibodies from healthy people were unaffected. The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“The implications of this study are profound,” said David Andersson, the primary investigator from King’s College Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. “Establishing that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder will transform how we view the condition and should pave the way for more effective treatments for the millions of people affected. Our work has uncovered a whole new area of therapeutic options and should give real hope to fibromyalgia patients.”

Camilla Svensson, the primary investigator from Karolinska, said, “Antibodies from people with FMS living in two different countries, the UK and Sweden, gave similar results, which adds enormous strength to our findings. The next step will be to identify what factors the symptom-inducing antibodies bind to. This will help us not only in terms of developing novel treatment strategies for FMS, but also of blood-based tests for diagnosis, which are missing today.”

Connective Tissue Protein Helps Fight Bacterial Infections

Investigators from NYU Grossman School of Medicine identified a connective tissue protein that otherwise supports the framework of organs, but also helps the immune system response to bacterial infections. It also appears to moderate responses that can be fatal in sepsis. The research found that extracellular matrix (ECM) of connective tissue acts as a signaling partner with nearby cells in normal function and can contribute to disease when those signals go wrong. The key component of the ECM are fibroblasts. They found that lumican, a protein-sugar combination secreted by fibroblasts promotes immune system responses in macrophages. Lumican also protects tissues by moderating an immune response to DNA, whether from an invading virus or from human cells that are dying and release their DNA. These inflammatory responses, when they get out of control, lead to sepsis, which can damage the body’s tissue to the point of organ failure.

New Info on the Epsilon (California) COVID-19 Variant

The Epsilon variant of COVID-19, which appeared in California, has some unusual mutations. The variant accounted for about 15% of cases across the U.S in February. Initially it was less susceptible to antibody treatments available, but several months later the CDC downgraded it from a Variant of Concern to a Variant of Interest because it found the vaccines and other treatments were effective against it. A study of the viral variant by the University of Washington School of Medicine/UW Medicine found three mutations in the Epsilon coronavirus spike protein that is able to neutralize the potency of antibodies induced by the current vaccines or past COVID-19 infections. The investigators say the Epsilon variant “relies on an indirect and unusual neutralization-escape strategy.” One of the mutations affected the receptor binding domain on the spike glycoprotein, which decreased the neutralizing activity of 14 out of 34 neutralizing antibodies that target that domain. The other two mutations affected the N-terminal domain on the spike protein.

Confirming Data on Effectiveness of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines

Consistent with other studies, the University of Utah Health issued the results of a study that found individuals who received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines — in other words, the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines — are up to 91% less likely to develop COVID-19 than people who are unvaccinated. In addition, they found, also consistent with other studies, that in people who are vaccinated but still get an infection (“breakthrough” infections), the vaccines decrease the severity and duration of COVID-19 symptoms. This was a nationwide study designed to measure the risks and rates of infections in people on the front lines of the pandemic. The data also showed the vaccines were 81% effective in decreasing risk for infection after “partial” vaccination two weeks after the first dose, but before the second dose. The study looked at 3,975 participants at eight sites. Of them, 204 eventually tested positive; 156 were unvaccinated, 32 had indeterminate vaccine status, and 16 were fully or partially vaccinated. The study found that the fully or partially vaccinated people who were infected were 58% less likely to have a fever, 60% fewer days were spent sick in bed, and detection of the virus was decreased by 70%.

Giving COVID-19 to Your Pets

Two recent studies, which have yet to be published or peer-reviewed, suggest that people with COVID-19 can spread it to their dogs and cats, especially if they share a bed with the cats. The animals typically have no or mild symptoms, although there have been a few cases that might have been severe disease. The studies will be presented at the virtual European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) from July 9 to 12. The concern isn’t for the pets, who seem to rarely have symptoms, but the possibility of pets becoming reservoirs of the virus and reintroducing it to human populations. However, no data of pet-to-human transmission has been reported.

Surprise! Near-Meat and Meat Products are Not Nutritionally the Same

It probably should not be a surprise, but Duke University researchers analyzed plant-based meat alternatives to meat products using metabolomics. They found that although the taste and texture may be similar, the nutritional content was not. Meat-like products typically use leghemoglobin, a molecule from soy, to make the product as “meaty” as possible, and add red beet, berries and carrot extracts to make it appear “bloody.” Indigestible fibers like methyl cellulose are added to make the texture similar to meat. They found, however, that in lab analysis of 18 samples of a popular plant-based meat alternative to 18 grass-fed ground beef samples from an Idaho ranch, 171 of the 190 metabolites they measured varied between the two types of products. The beef contained 22 metabolites that the plant substitute didn’t. The plant-based substitute contained 31 metabolites meat didn’t. The biggest variations were in amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, and types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

“It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that’s not to say that one is better than the other,” said Stephen van Vliet, a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute who led the research. “Plant and animal foods can be complementary, because they provide different nutrients.”