Sensors Responsible for Chronic Pain Identified: New Drugs A Possibility

Mammals that get close to or bite objects that are extremely hot or cold can experience intense pain; this reaction is most likely an evolutionary adaption to make them get out of the way of a threat. A new study has used super-resolution microscopy to show how chemical triggers in the nervous system amplify the pain response to certain stimuli.

This “get out of the way!” defense mechanism can malfunction when certain diseases are present. Instead of providing a short, intense burst of pain to get the mammal to move, it produces a long, ongoing pain—the molecular sensors that respond to the physical stimuli intensify the signals that reach the brain. In horses, this type of pain is seen with neuropathies or arthritis pain.

In a study conducted on rats by researchers at England’s Leeds University, it was found that calcium-activated chlorine was the combination responsible for the amplification of electrical signals to the brain, which is chronic pain.

The use of super-resolution microscopy allowed the research team, led by Dr. Nikita Gamper, to see how environmental threats are detected and processed; understanding how this works this will allow researchers to combat the malfunctioning response that causes long-term pain. Long-term pain damages the quality of life of affected mammals.

Researchers found that pain amplification occurs in the peripheral nervous system, not the central nervous system. This could mean that drugs to treat chronic pain could be created that target the peripheral nervous system rather than the brain, which is how current painkillers act. Painkillers that use the peripheral nervous system would have less effect on the brain and less side effects.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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