JUL 13, 2019 4:17 PM PDT

Learning More About the Causes of Endometriosis Pain

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

It’s estimated that as many as 176 million women suffer from endometriosis, which can be an extremely painful disorder that significantly impacts quality of life, and is described in the video. Now scientists have learned more about the cause of this pain, which can help improve diagnostics and treatments for the disorder. The findings have been reported in The FASEB Journal.

In endometriosis, the tissue that lines the uterus - the endometrium begins to grow on the outside. It still behaves like the uterine lining, however, and thickens and breaks down, but has nowhere to go. When the ovaries are impacted, cysts can form and irritate the adjacent tissue, causing lesions and scarring. This painful condition, which may cause infertility, can only be treated by surgically removing the lesions or administering drugs to reduce the production of ovarian hormones; better options are needed.

“Endometriosis is sometimes considered a hidden disorder because of a reluctance to discuss what can be passed off as women's problems,” noted the lead study author Dr. Erin Greaves of Warwick Medical School. “Hormonal solutions rely on suppressing ovarian function but are not ideal as they can cause unwanted side effects, and prevent the user from becoming pregnant. We are trying to find non-hormonal solutions.”

Scientists in the Greaves lab in collaboration with researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that the functions of immune cells called macrophages are altered by endometriosis. The cells are attracted to the lesions caused by the disease, and many can reside there. When scientists cultured some of these altered macrophages, they determined that they had ramped up production of a molecule called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). When neurons were exposed to this IGF-1, it encouraged growth and activation. It illustrated how macrophages can lead to pelvic pain and sensitivity in endometriosis.

The researchers followed up with patients, assessing their peritoneal fluid for IGF-1. It seems that higher levels of IGF-1 correlated with patients reporting higher pain levels.

This is the first study that has connected endometriosis and macrophages, though the immune cells have been linked to other chronic pain conditions.

Differentiating neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. / Credit: NCATS

“If we can learn about the role of macrophages in endometriosis then we can distinguish them from healthy macrophages and target treatment to them,” said Greaves. “Macrophages are so crucial to our immune system tissue function and we need to know more about their roles, so this research goes some way in defining how macrophages are different in endometriosis.”

In the macrophages in endometriosis lesions, gene expression changes. This can not only contribute to increased pain and sensitivity, it might also serve as a biomarker of disease severity or treatment approaches.

“Endometriosis can affect women throughout their lives and is a very common condition,” Greaves added. “This discovery will go some way towards finding ways to relieve symptoms for women who suffer from endometriosis. We hope that in the future we can learn exactly how disease-modified macrophages in endometriosis promote disease and how we can target them in order to treat endometriosis.”


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Warwick, The FASEB Journal

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Reward and Punishment Take Similar Paths in the Mouse Brain
SEP 19, 2020
Reward and Punishment Take Similar Paths in the Mouse Brain
Scientists have determined that mice have brain cells that can help them learn to avoid bad experiences.
SEP 21, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
The Hormones We Have at Birth Are Linked to Disease Throughout Life
SEP 21, 2020
The Hormones We Have at Birth Are Linked to Disease Throughout Life
New work may help explain why some autoimmune or immune-related diseases are more common in women, who are more likely t ...
SEP 27, 2020
Microbiology
New Insight Into An Old Bacterial Pathogen
SEP 27, 2020
New Insight Into An Old Bacterial Pathogen
There are many different strains of Escherichia coli bacteria, some of which live harmlessly in the human gut. But some ...
OCT 09, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Proteins Have an Orientation in Plant Cells
OCT 09, 2020
Proteins Have an Orientation in Plant Cells
Just like animals, plants are made of cells that are full of proteins. The proteins in plant cells are often only found ...
OCT 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
The Gene Behind the Glow of the Sea Pickle is ID'ed
OCT 20, 2020
The Gene Behind the Glow of the Sea Pickle is ID'ed
In this photo by OceanX, researchers off the coast of Brazil collected Pyrosoma atlanticum specimens with a special robo ...
NOV 01, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
A Better View of the Mechanisms Underlying Night Vision
NOV 01, 2020
A Better View of the Mechanisms Underlying Night Vision
When light levels are low, the rod cells of our eyes go to work to help us see.
Loading Comments...