Peripheral immune aberrations in fibromyalgia: A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression

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The objective was to identify immune alterations in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) compared to healthy controls (HC) using meta-analysis and meta-regression. Six electronic databases were searched for suitable original articles investigating immune biomarkers in FMS in comparison to HC. We extracted outcomes and variables of interest, such as mean and SD of peripheral blood immune biomarkers, age or sex. A random-effects model with restricted maximum-likelihood estimator was used to compute effect sizes (standardized mean difference and 95% CI, Hedges' g) and meta-analysis, group meta-analysis and meta-regressions were conducted. Forty-three papers were included in this systematic review, of which 29 were suitable for meta-analysis. Interleukin (IL)-6 (g = 0.36 (0.09-0.63); I2 = 85.94; p = 0.01), IL-4 (g = 0.50 (0.03-0.98); I2 = 81.87; p = 0.04), and IL-17A (g = 0.53 (0.00-1.06); I2 = 87.15; p = 0.05), were significantly higher in FMS compared to HC while also combinations of cytokines into relevant phenotypes were significantly upregulated including M1 macrophage (g = 0.23 (0.03-0.43); I2 = 77.62; p = 0.02), and immune-regulatory (g = 0.40 (0.09-0.72); I2 = 84.81; p = 0.01) phenotypes. Heterogeneity levels were very high and subgroup and meta-regression analyses showed that many covariates explained part of the heterogeneity including medication washout, sex, time of blood sampling and exclusion of patients with major depressive disorder. In conclusion, FMS is accompanied by a disbalance between upregulated pro-inflammatory (M1 and Th-17) and immune-regulatory cytokines although effect sizes are small-to-moderate. Based on our results we provide specific methodological suggestions for future research, which should assess Th-1, Th-17, chemokines, and Th-2 phenotypes while controlling for possible confounding variables specified in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)881-889
Number of pages9
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Immune biomarkers
  • Meta-analysis


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