The Pain group is working on various aspects of clinical chronic painDNA1 syndromes including musculoskeletal pain such as fibromyalgia and low back pain; and visceral pain including unexplained pelvic pain and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition we have obtained objective pain sensitivity measures on the Twins through quantitative sensory testing (QST). There is also an interest in the behavioural and psychological aspects of pain.

Our aim is to identify genetic and epigenetic variants predisposing to pain syndromes and mediating the change from acute to chronic pain. Our approach in musculoskeletal pain is moving away from studies of joint structure (as determined by imaging) towards other modalities of pain assessment. The recent genome-wide meta-analysis of lumbar disc degeneration (LDD) with all the major North European spine cohorts has identified a new gene variant associated with this, whose gene expression appears influenced by epigenetic factors. We have also, with collaborators, identified a new genetic variant associated with fibromyalgia. Future plans include translating our findings from twin volunteers to patients with chronic pain, and we have an active collection of DNA from patients with fibromyalgia from across the country as part of the BRC NIHR BioResource.

We welcome the opportunity to work with other groups and are collaborating nationally and internationally on a number of projects, including the Hong-Kong group drive to standardise the degenerative disc phenotype.

Dr Frances Williams


MRI (T2 weighted sagittal) of lumbar spine


Määttä JH, Wadge S, MacGregor A, Karppinen J, Williams FM. Vertebral endplate (Modic) change is an independent risk factor for episodes of severe and disabling low back pain. Spine 2015 in press as ISSLS prizewinner

Vehof J, Zavos H, Rijsdijk F, Hammond CJ, Williams FM. Shared genetic factors underlying chronic pain syndromes. Pain, 2014 May 29. [Epub ahead of print]

Burri A, Lachance G, Williams FM. Prevalence and risk factors of sexual problems and sexual distress in a sample of women suffering from chronic widespread pain. J Sex Med. 2014 Nov;11(11):2772-84

Bell JT, Loomis AK, Butcher LM, (12 authors)…, Williams FM, (4 authors)…, Wang J, John SL, Spector TD. Differential methylation of the TRPA1 promoter in pain sensitivity. Nat Commun. 5:2978, 2014.

Franco L, Williams FM, Trofimov S, Malkin I, Surdulescu G, Spector T, Livshits G. Assessment of age-related changes in heritability and IGF-1 gene effect on circulating IGF-1 levels. Age (Dordr), 36(3):9622, 2014.

Stone MA, Osei-Bordom DC, Inman RD, Sammon C, Wolber LE, Williams FM. Heritability of spinal curvature and its relationship to disc degeneration and bone mineral density in female adult twins. Eur Spine J. 2014 Jul 29. [Epub ahead of print]

Määttä JH, Kraatari M, Wolber L, Niinimäki J, Wadge S, Karppinen J, Williams FM. Vertebral endplate change as a feature of intervertebral disc degeneration: a heritability study. Eur Spine J, 2014 May 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Malkin I, Williams FM, LaChance G, Spector T, MacGregor AJ, Livshits G. Low Back and Common Widespread Pain Share Common Genetic Determinants. Ann Hum Genet, 2014 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print]

Franco L, Williams FM, Trofimov S, Surdulescu G, Spector T, Livshits G. Elevated plasma fractalkine levels are associated with higher levels of IL-6, Apo-B, LDL-C and insulin, but not with body composition in a large female twin sample. Metabolism, 62(8):1081-7, 2013.

Peters BS, Perry M, Wierzbicki AS, Wolber LE, Blake GM, Patel N, Hoile R, Duncan A, Kulasegaram R, Williams FMK. A cross-sectional randomised study of fracture risk in people with HIV infection in the Probono 1 study. PLoS One, 29;8(10):e78048, 2013.

Williams FMK et al (+50 authors). Ischaemic stroke is associated with the ABO locus: the Euroclot study. Ann Neurol. 73(1):16-31, 2013.