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Papers of the Week

Papers: 22 May 2021 - 28 May 2021

Human Studies

2021 May 21

J Pain

Dysregulation in sphingolipid signaling pathways is associated with symptoms and functional connectivity of pain processing brain regions in provoked vestibulodynia.


Labus JS, Mayer EA, Tillisch K, Aagaard KM, Stains J, Broniowska K, Van Remortel C, Tun G, Rapkin A
J Pain. 2021 May 21.
PMID: 34029688.


Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is a chronic pain disorder characterized by local hypersensitivity and severe pain with pressure localized to the vulvar vestibule. Despite decades of study, the lack of identified biomarkers has slowed the development of effective therapies. The primary aim of this study was to use metabolomics to identify novel biochemical mechanisms in vagina and blood underlying brain biomarkers and symptoms in PVD, thereby closing this knowledge gap. Using a cross-sectional case-control observational study design, untargeted and unbiased metabolomic profiling of vaginal fluid and plasma was performed in women with PVD compared to healthy controls. In women with PVD, we also obtained assessments of vulvar pain, vestibular and vaginal muscle tenderness, and 24-hour symptom intensity alongside resting-state brain functional connectivity of brain regions involved in pain processing and modulation. Compared to healthy controls, women with PVD demonstrated differences primarily in vaginal (but not plasma) concentrations of metabolites of the sphingolipid signaling pathways, suggesting localized effects in vagina and vulvar vestibule rather than systemic effects. Our findings reveal that dysregulation of sphingolipid metabolism in PVD is associated with increased vulvar pain and muscle tenderness, sexual dysfunction, and decreased functional connectivity strength in pain processing/modulatory brain regions. This data collectively suggests that alterations in sphingolipid signaling pathways are likely an important molecular biomarker in PVD that could lead to new targets for therapeutic intervention.