A new way to treat pain? ‘Silencing’ the brain cells that interpret discomfort ‘may make you IMMUNE to agony’
- Exposing mice to heat or skin pricks activates the amygdala in their brains
- Blocking cells in the amygdala stops pain signals being interpreted by the brain
- Causes animals to still move away from the source of pain but not feel it
Hope has been raised for a new way of treating pain after scientists successfully ‘silenced’ the brain cells that interpret discomfort.
Exposing mice to unpleasant temperatures or skin pricks activates an area of their brains known as the amygdala, which processes emotions.
When cells in the amygdalas of the rodents were blocked, the animals still produced pain signals but they were not interpreted by their brains.
This caused the rodents to move away from the source of pain but show no sign of distress, such as licking their wounds, scientists said.
Scientists raise hope for a new painkiller that may help those with chronic discomfort (stock)
‘It’s as if they don’t care about pain any more, even though they can detect it,’ said lead author Professor Grégory Scherrer at Stanford University.
To investigate how the brain interprets pain, the researchers genetically-modified cells in the amygdala of mice so they became fluorescent when active.
They found these cells lit up when the mice were exposed to heat or a small pin prick, New Scientist reported.
To silence these cells, the scientists genetically engineered them to express receptors for an unnamed drug that dampened their activity.
Brain circuits for pain tend to be similar between species, with these mechanisms likely also occurring in humans.
This gives the researchers hope their findings could lead to ‘novel therapeutic strategies’ that minimise ongoing discomfort.
‘We’re hoping it’s a new avenue to treat pain,’ Professor Scherrer said. The findings were published in the journal Science.
The discovery follows previous research that found damage to the amygdala reduces the sensation of pain.
However, it is important people and animals know to move away from the source of discomfort as it could cause damage.
Pain signals therefore still need to be produced, but not interpreted by the brain, the scientists warned.
Fifty million adults in the US – 20.4 per cent of adults – suffer from chronic pain, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report defines chronic pain as occurring every day or most days for at least six months.
In the UK, 28million adults – two fifths of the population – are living with pain that has lasted at least three months, British Pain Society data reveals.
Common causes include headache, abdominal cramps, muscle strain and arthritis.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MYTHS ABOUT BACK PAIN?
You should always rest a bad back: Moderate exercise is essential to build and maintain strength and flexibility in the spine, improving posture and protecting you from any further pain. While total rest may seem like a good way to recover often continuing moderate physical activity will help in the long run. Your local chiropractor will be able to advise on what is right for you.
Back or neck pain is simply part of the ageing process: While ageing can have an impact on your back health, back or neck pain can occur at any age. Maintaining good health into later years and being aware of how to preserve one of our body’s most important assets, the back, is important in allowing us to maintain activity levels. The BCA has advice on how to protect your back at any age.
Back or neck pain is not common: Back and neck pain is very common, and statistics have shown that 80 per cent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
The spine can be injured easily: The spine is actually one of the strongest parts of your body and is designed to be strong. Like any other part of your body though, taking good care of it is essential to allow it to do its job effectively for as long as possible.
A slipped disc means a disc has slipped out of your spine: The discs are circular pads of connective tissue – cartilage – in between each vertebra in your back. These discs have an inner gel-like substance and a tough outer case. They help maintain your back’s flexibility and wide range of movement. A slipped disc means that one of the discs of cartilage in the spine is damaged and possibly extruding, irritating or pressing on the nerves. It can also be known as a prolapsed or herniated disc.
Pain killers can cure back pain: Most back pain is ‘mechanical’ in nature so, even though painkillers can be helpful, some sort of mechanical, hands on treatment involving movement/exercise is more likely to help manage the problem and reduce recurrence.