Dysmenorrhea is a common disorder that substantially disrupts the lives of young women. To determine whether there is evidence of activation of the innate immune system in dysmenorrhea and whether the degree of activation may be used as a biomarker for pain, we compared the responsiveness of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) to toll-like receptor (TLR) 2 or 4 stimulation. We also investigated whether this effect is modulated by the use of the oral contraceptive pill (OC).
Fifty-six women aged 16–35 years, with either severe or minimal dysmenorrhea, and use or non-use of the OC, were enrolled. PBMCs were collected on two occasions in a single menstrual cycle: the menstrual phase and the mid-follicular phase. PBMCs were exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a TLR4 agonist, and PAM3CSK4 (PAM), a TLR2 agonist, and the resulting interleukin-1beta (IL–1β) output was determined. Statistical analysis compared the EC50 between groups as a measure of TLR responsiveness of PBMCs.
The key finding following LPS stimulation was a pain effect of dysmenorrhea (p=0.042) that was independent of use or non-use of OC, and independent of day of testing. Women with dysmenorrhea showed a large 2.15-fold (95% CI −4.69, −0.09) increase in IL–1β release when compared with pain-free participants across both days.