MAY 19, 2020 2:47 PM PDT

Researchers Find Brain Cells that Shut Down Pain

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Researchers at Duke University have found that a small group of cells in the brain may be able to regulate our sense of pain. Using mouse models, they found the cells in the amygdala.

The findings are a follow-up to earlier research investigating how neurons are activated by general anesthetics. In 2019, the same researchers found that general anesthesia promotes slow-wave sleep as it activates a specific subset of neurons in the central amygdala, known as CeAga neurons. 

Using various technologies, the researchers tracked the pathways of neurons activated in mice after giving them a mild pain stimulus. In total, they found that at least 16 areas of the brain known to process sensory and emotional aspects of pain received inhibitory signals from the CeAga. 

"Pain is a complicated brain response," says senior author of the study, Fan Wang said. "It involves sensory discrimination, emotion, and autonomic (involuntary nervous system) responses. Treating pain by dampening all of these brain processes in many areas is very difficult to achieve. But activating a key node that naturally sends inhibitory signals to these pain-processing regions would be more robust."

Next, the researchers used a technology known as optogenetics, that activates various parts of the brain with a ‘light’, to activate the CeAga neurons. In doing so, they found they could turn off self-caring behaviors in mice when they feel uncomfortable, such as licking their paws. Reducing the activity of these neurons caused the mice to immediately revert to comfort-seeking behaviors. 

Furthermore, they found that low doses of anesthetic drug ketamine, known to allow sensation but block pain, also activated the CeAga cells, and could not function without them.

Now, the researchers intend to identify the gene responsible for this process, and thus a drug target, so may then develop treatments to relieve pain using this mechanism. 


Sources: Science Daily, Medical Xpress, Earth.com

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
SEP 24, 2020
Health & Medicine
Extreme Isolation can Cause Physical Brain Changes
SEP 24, 2020
Extreme Isolation can Cause Physical Brain Changes
By this point in the year, you’ve either heard or uttered the phrase “quarantine brain.” While the act ...
OCT 29, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
More Frequent Trips to the Pediatrician Linked to a Future Autism Diagnosis
OCT 29, 2020
More Frequent Trips to the Pediatrician Linked to a Future Autism Diagnosis
 
NOV 01, 2020
Neuroscience
High Fat Diet Could Prevent Anorexia Deaths
NOV 01, 2020
High Fat Diet Could Prevent Anorexia Deaths
Researchers from Yale University have homed in on a specific kind of neuron that appears to play a sizable role in fatal ...
NOV 14, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Towards a Better Characterization of Neurons
NOV 14, 2020
Towards a Better Characterization of Neurons
The human body is made up of a wide array of different types of cells, and if we want to understand human diseases and t ...
DEC 10, 2020
Immunology
Drug Turns Back the Clock in Aged Brains
DEC 10, 2020
Drug Turns Back the Clock in Aged Brains
When faced with stressful stimuli — anything from oxygen or nutrient deprivation to viral infections — cells ...
DEC 17, 2020
Neuroscience
Coding and Language Use Different Parts of the Brain
DEC 17, 2020
Coding and Language Use Different Parts of the Brain
Neuroscientists from MIT have found that reading computer code does not activate the areas in the brain used to process ...
Loading Comments...