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Bäumler, Petra; Brenske, Anna; Winkelmann, Andreas; Irnich, Dominik; Averbeck, Beate (2023): Strong and aversive cold processing and pain facilitation in fibromyalgia patients relates to augmented thermal grill illusion. Scientific Reports, 13 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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The thermal grill illusion (TGI) is assumed to result from crosstalk between the thermoreceptive and nociceptive pathways. To elucidate this further, we compared 40 female fibromyalgia patients to 20 healthy women in an exploratory cross-sectional study. Sensations (cold, warm/heat, unpleasantness, pain and burning) evoked by 20 °C, 40 °C and alternating 20 °C/40 °C (TGI) and somatosensory profiles according to standardized quantitative sensory testing (QST) were assessed on the palm of the dominant hand. Compared to healthy controls, fibromyalgia patients reported stronger thermal grill-evoked cold, warm, unpleasantness and pain as well as stronger and more aversive 20 °C- and 40 °C-evoked sensations. They showed a loss in warm, mechanical and vibration detection, a gain in thermal pain thresholds and higher temporal summation (TS). Among QST parameters higher TS in fibromyalgia patients was most consistently associated with an augmented TGI. Independently, an increased TGI was linked to cold (20 °C) but less to warm (40 °C) perception. In fibromyalgia patients all thermal grill-evoked sensations were positively related to a higher 20 °C-evoked cold sensation and/or 20 °C-evoked unpleasantness. In conclusion, the TGI appears to be driven mainly by the cold-input. Aversive cold processing and central pain facilitation in fibromyalgia patients seem to independently augment the activation of the pain pathway.

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