Scientists from the University of Berne (Switzerland) have recently made an exciting breakthrough that may pave the way for a new treatment for chronic pain. Publishing their study in the scientific journal Neuron, the researchers have identified a cellular mechanism that they believe contributes to the development of chronic pain.
Lead author of the study, Thomas Nevian, of the Department of Physiology, suggests that despite the high numbers of chronic pain sufferers, adequate treatment strategies are missing in many cases, explaining that:
“The constant perception of pain severely influences the quality of life of the patients and represents an extraordinary emotional burden…” and that: “understanding the development of chronic pain is of outmost importance for neuroscience research.”
What has the research revealed?
In discussing their findings Nevian, and his fellow researcher Mirko Santello, describe a region in the brain known as Gyrus Cinguli which is, according to sciencedaily.com associated with the: “emotional aspects of pain”, and “pain memory”. It is within the neurons of this part of the brain that the key to the team’s discovery can be found.
Here’s the science:
“Pain is perceived by electrical impulses in the neurons. Therefore, the two researchers were searching for changes in the electrical properties of neurons in the limbic system. They found that neurons were more excitable in the Gyrus Cinguli. This was attributable to a down regulation of a specific ion channel, a protein in the cell membrane that determines the electrical properties of the cell. This led to an increased number of nerve impulses in these cells and thus to an increased perception of pain.”
The next part of the team’s research involved an investigation of how they might treat pain sensitivity. They found that if they activated a receptor that was sensitive to serotonin, they could restore a normal function to the neuron. This, in turn, has the effect of reducing the perception of pain:
“It has been known for some time that serotonin can modulate pain perception and the function of some drugs is based on this,” Thomas Nevian says. “Nevertheless, what is new in our study now is that we were able to identify a specific subtype of serotonin receptor that reduced the perception of pain more efficiently. This is an important result, which might help to treat chronic pain more efficiently in the future.”
How does this research affect fibromyalgia patients?
As with most scientific breakthroughs, the results of the Berne team’s research will take a little while to filter down onto the market: so it will be some time before fibromyalgia patients are able to benefit from any drugs that are designed on the basis of these results.
The good news is that the more research that is done in this field, the closer we are coming to finding a reliable solution to treating chronic pain. Now wouldn’t that be something!
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