Detecting brain region that alleviates pain could lead to better opioid alternatives

The control of tonic pain by active relief learning.

Prescription bottle for Oxycodone tablets and pills on metal table
Prescription bottle for Oxycodone tablets and pills on metal table Credit: Penn State

UK and Japan scientists how the brain’s normal painkilling system could be utilized as a conceivable other option to opioids for the successful relief of incessant agony, which influences upwards of one of every three individuals eventually in their lives.

Scientists have pointed an area of the brain that is important for endogenous analgesia – the brain’s intrinsic pain relief system. The study is expected to develop better pain treatments that activate the painkilling system by stimulating this area of the brain.

Opioids drugs hijack the endogenous analgesia system, which is what makes them such effective painkillers. The drugs are addictive enough that almost led to the opioid crisis in the United States, where drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for those under 50.

Dr Ben Seymour of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering said, “We’re trying to understand exactly what the endogenous analgesia system is: why we have it, how it works and where it is controlled in the brain. If we can figure this out, it could lead to treatments that are much more selective in terms of how they treat pain.”

“Pain can actually help us recover by removing our drive to do unnecessary things – in a sense, this can be considered ‘healthy pain’. So why might the brain want to turn down the pain signal sometimes?”

During experiments, researchers attached a metal probe to the arm of a series of healthy volunteers – and heated it up to a level that was painful, but not enough to physically burn them. They then asked volunteers to play a gambling-like game where they had to find which button on a small keypad cooled down the probe. The level of the difficulty has differed through the span of the analyses – now and again it was anything but difficult to kill the test, and some of the time it was troublesome. All through the assignment, the volunteers oftentimes appraised their agony, and the analysts continually observed their mind active.

The level of pain the volunteers experienced was related to how much information there was to learn in the task. At the point when the subjects were currently attempting to work out which catch they should squeeze, torment was diminished. In any case, when the subjects knew which catch to squeeze, it wasn’t. The specialists found that the mind was really registering the advantages of currently searching for and recollecting how they got alleviation, and utilizing this to control the level of torment.

Seymour said, “These results build a picture of why and how the brain decides to turn off pain in certain circumstances and identify the pregenual cingulate cortex as a critical ‘decision center’ controlling pain in the brain.”

This decision center is a key place to focus future research efforts. In particular, the researchers are now trying to understand what the inputs are to this brain region if it is stimulated by opioid drugs, what other chemical messenger systems it uses, and how it could be turned on as a treatment for patients with chronic pain.

The finding has appeared in eLife.