Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Baffling Chronic Pain Linked To Weird Rewiring Of Brain

Date:
November 27, 2008
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Scientists peered at the brains of people with a baffling chronic pain condition and discovered something surprising. Their brains looked like an inept cable guy had changed the hookups, rewiring the areas related to emotion, pain perception and the temperature of their skin. The new finding begins to explain a mysterious condition that the medical community had doubted was real.

This 3-dimensional graphic shows the abnormal rewiring of the brain's right hemisphere in patients with complex region pain syndrome. The orange path shows the location of gray matter atrophy and damaged wiring in the anterior cingulate; blue shows damage in the insula; green in the medial prefrontal cortex.
Credit: Image courtesy of Northwestern University

Scientists peered at the brains of people with a baffling chronic pain condition and discovered something surprising. Their brains looked like an inept cable guy had changed the hookups, rewiring the areas related to emotion, pain perception and the temperature of their skin.

Related Articles


The new finding by scientists at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, begins to explain a mysterious condition that the medical community had doubted was real.

The people whose brains were examined have a chronic pain condition called complex region pain syndrome (CRPS.) It's a pernicious and nasty condition that usually begins with an injury causing significant damage to the hand or the foot. For the majority of people, the pain from the injury disappears once the limb is healed. But for 5 percent of the patients, the pain rages on long past the healing, sometimes for the rest of people's lives. About 200,00 people in the U.S. have this condition.

In a hand injury, for example, the pain may radiate from the initial injury site and spread to the whole arm or even the entire body. People also experience changes in skin color to blue or red as well as skin temperature (hotter at first, then becoming colder as the condition turns chronic.) Their immune system also shifts into overdrive, indicated by a hike in blood immune markers.

The changes in the brain take place in the network of tiny, white "cables" that dispatch messages between the neurons. This is called the brain's white matter. Several years ago, Northwestern researchers discovered chronic pain caused the regions in the brain that contain the neurons -- called gray matter because of it looks gray -- to atrophy.

This is the first study to link pain with changes in the brain's white matter. It will be published November 26 in the journal Neuron.

"This is the first evidence of brain abnormality in these patients," said A. Vania Apkarian, professor of physiology at the Feinberg School and principal investigator of the study. " People didn't believe these patients. This is the first proof that there is a biological underpinning for the condition. Scientists have been trying to understand this baffling condition for a long time."

Apkarian said people with CRPS suffer intensely and have a high rate of suicide. "Physicians don't know what to do," he said. "We don't have the tools to take care of them."

The new findings provide anatomical targets for scientists, who can now look for potential pharmaceutical treatments to help these patients, Apkarian said. He doesn't know yet if chronic pain causes these changes in the brain or if CRPS patients' brains have pre-existing abnormalities that predispose them to this condition.

In the new study, the brains of 22 subjects with CRPS and 22 normal subjects were examined with an anatomical MRI and a diffusion tensor MRI, which enabled scientists to view the white matter. In addition to changes in white matter, the CRPS patients' brains showed an atrophy of neurons or gray matter similar to what has been previously shown in other types of chronic pain patients.

Apkarian said the white matter changes in patients' brains is related to the duration and intensity of their pain and their anxiety. It is likely that white matter reorganizes in other chronic pain conditions as well, but that has not yet been studied, he noted.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Baffling Chronic Pain Linked To Weird Rewiring Of Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081126133353.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2008, November 27). Baffling Chronic Pain Linked To Weird Rewiring Of Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081126133353.htm
Northwestern University. "Baffling Chronic Pain Linked To Weird Rewiring Of Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081126133353.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Touch-Free Smart Phone Empowers Mobility-Impaired

Touch-Free Smart Phone Empowers Mobility-Impaired

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) A touch-free phone developed in Israel enables the mobility-impaired to operate smart phones with just a movement of the head. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) Polish scientists isolate bacteria from earthworm intestines which they say may be used in antibiotics and cancer treatments. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) A team of scientists led by Danish chemist Jorn Christensen says they have isolated two chemical compounds within an existing antipsychotic medication that could be used to help a range of failing antibiotics work against killer bacterial infections, such as Tuberculosis. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hugging It Out Could Help You Ward Off A Cold

Hugging It Out Could Help You Ward Off A Cold

Newsy (Dec. 21, 2014) Carnegie Mellon researchers found frequent hugs can help people avoid stress-related illnesses. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins