Pain is associated with short leukocyte telomere length in women with fibromyalgia

Afton L. Hassett, Elissa Epel, Daniel J. Clauw, Richard E. Harris, Steven E. Harte, Anson Kairys, Steven Buyske, David A. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Telomere length, considered a measure of biological aging, is linked to morbidity and mortality. Psychosocial factors associated with shortened telomeres are also common in chronic pain; yet, little is known about telomere length in pain populations. Leukocyte telomere length was evaluated in 66 women with fibromyalgia and 22 healthy female controls. Participants completed questionnaires and a subgroup of fibromyalgia patients underwent quantitative sensory testing (QST; n = 12) and neuroimaging (n = 12). Telomere length was measured using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction method. Although patients had shorter telomere length than controls, the difference was not statistically significant. However, higher levels of pain within fibromyalgia were associated with shorter telomere length (P =.039). When pain and depression were combined, patients categorized as high-pain/high-depression had an age-adjusted telomere length 265 base pairs shorter than those with low-pain/low-depression (P =.043), a difference consistent with approximately 6 years of chronological aging. In the subset tested, telomere length was also related to pain threshold and pain sensitivity, as well as gray matter volume, such that patients with shorter telomeres were more sensitive to evoked pain and had less gray matter in brain regions associated with pain processing (eg, primary somatosensory cortex). These preliminary data support a relationship between pain and telomere length. Perspective: Our findings support a link between premature cellular aging and chronic pain. These preliminary data imply that chronic pain is a more serious condition than has typically been recognized in terms of bodily aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)959-969
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


  • Pain
  • fibromyalgia
  • neuroimaging
  • premature aging
  • telomere


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