Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Very good news

This one practically made me stand up and cheer:

Scientists come up with neural mechanism—and possible fix—for chronic pain

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.

The idea that chronic pain is “all in your head” is immediately plausible because (a) phantom limb pain, and (b) it’s hard to see what else could cause chronic headache conditions other than misinterpretation of normal nerve signals by the brain.

I’m not sure I can think of any other medical breakthrough I want to see more. Faster, please! MUCH MUCH FASTER would be nice. And let’s not limit this to pain after an injury, unless we define injury very broadly indeed: for example, to include all back and neck pain. Neurogenic pain is SO hard to treat — I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows this from experience — so let’s move this along.

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2 Comments Very good news

  1. Pete Mack

    Cool. Now go read The Clewiston Test, by Kate Wilhelm. (One of the very best hard SF/medical thrillers I’ve ever read.)

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