Unravelling the role of epigenetic modifications in response to exercise in patients with chronic widespread pain: an experimental study

Project Details


Despite its numerous beneficial effects in most clinical populations,
exercise can actually worsen symptoms in patients with chronic
widespread pain (CWP), thus preventing them from engaging in
regular physical activity. Unravelling the link between exercise
intolerance and pain is thus crucial to understand CWP
pathophysiology and develop truly effective treatments. Epigenetic
mechanisms provide core targetable processes for developing new
therapies. However, research on such mechanisms in CWP is
scarce, and this is a major research gap. Our aim is to assess
exercise-induced epigenetic changes in patients with CWP. We
selected three genes that encode for proteins involved in central
nervous system functioning, neuroinflammation, and pain: brainderived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), catechol-O-methyltransferase
(COMT) and histone de-acetylases (HDACs). Expression of these
genes is notably altered after one bout of moderate exercise. We
thus designed a randomised controlled experiment and will enrol 80
patients with CWP and 40 healthy controls. Both groups will be
randomized in 2 groups – one undergoing an exercise bout, and the
other one undergoing a psychological stress test, to control for
psychological confounders. Exercise-induced changes in symptoms,
pain sensitivity, and DNA methylation (the most studied epigenetic
mechanism) will be assessed. We will also measure BDNF, COMT,
and HDACs expression/activity, to identify possible regulatory
epigenetic mechanisms.
Effective start/end date1/10/2130/09/24

Flemish discipline codes

  • Pain medicine anesthesiology
  • Physiotherapy
  • Epigenetics
  • Exercise physiology


  • DNA methylation
  • exercise
  • pain/pain sensitivity