Enlarge / Ow. (credit: Getty | Paul Bradbury)
Chronic, aching pain after an injury or operation may be all in your head. Researchers now think they’ve figured out exactly how brain wiring goes haywire to cause persistent pain—and how to fix it.
In mice with peripheral nerve damage and chronic pain from a leg surgery, a broken circuit in a pain-processing region of mammalian brains caused hyperactive pain signals that persisted for more than a month.
Specifically, the peripheral nerve damage seemed to deactivate a type of interconnected brain cells, called somatostatin (SOM) interneurons, which normally dampen pain signals. Without the restraints, neurons that fire off pain signals—cortical pyramidal neurons—went wild, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience.
But the circuitry could be repaired, the researchers found. Just by manually activating those pain-stifling SOM interneurons, the researchers could shut down the rodents’ chronic pain and keep the system working properly—preventing centralized, chronic pain from ever developing.
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