Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neuron memory key to taming chronic pain, new research suggests

Date:
February 13, 2012
Source:
McGill University
Summary:
Researchers have found the key to understanding how memories of pain are stored in the brain. More importantly, the researchers are also able to suggest how these memories can be erased, making it possible to ease chronic pain.

For some, the pain is so great that they can't even bear to have clothes touch their skin. For others, it means that every step is a deliberate and agonizing choice. Whether the pain is caused by arthritic joints, an injury to a nerve or a disease like fibromyalgia, research now suggests there are new solutions for those who suffer from chronic pain.
Credit: © Robert Kneschke / Fotolia

For some, the pain is so great that they can't even bear to have clothes touch their skin. For others, it means that every step is a deliberate and agonizing choice. Whether the pain is caused by arthritic joints, an injury to a nerve or a disease like fibromyalgia, research now suggests there are new solutions for those who suffer from chronic pain.

A team of researchers led by McGill neuroscientist Terence Coderre, who is also affiliated with the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, has found the key to understanding how memories of pain are stored in the brain. More importantly, the researchers are also able to suggest how these memories can be erased, making it possible to ease chronic pain.

It has long been known that the central nervous system "remembers" painful experiences, that they leave a memory trace of pain. And when there is new sensory input, the pain memory trace in the brain magnifies the feeling so that even a gentle touch can be excruciating.

"Perhaps the best example of a pain memory trace is found with phantom limb pain," suggests Coderre. "Patients may have a limb amputated because of gangrene, and because the limb was painful before it was amputated, even though the limb is gone, the patients continue to feel they are suffering from pain in the absent limb. That's because the brain remembers the pain. In fact, there's evidence that any pain that lasts more than a few minutes will leave a trace in the nervous system." It's this memory of pain, which exists at the neuronal level, that is critical to the development of chronic pain. But until now, it was not known how these pain memories were stored at the level of the neurons.

Recent work has shown that the protein kinase PKMzeta plays a crucial role in building and maintaining memory by strengthening the connections between neurons. Now Coderre and his colleagues have discovered that PKMzeta is also the key to understanding how the memory of pain is stored in the neurons. They were able to show that after painful stimulation, the level of PKMzeta increases persistently in the central nervous system (CNS).

Even more importantly, the researchers found that by blocking the activity of PKMzeta at the neuronal level, they could reverse the hypersensitivity to pain that neurons developed after irritating the skin by applying capsaicin -- the active ingredient in hot peppers. Moreover, erasing this pain memory trace was found to reduce both persistent pain and heightened sensitivity to touch.

Coderre and his colleagues believe that building on this study to devise ways to target PKMzeta in pain pathways could have a significant effect for patients with chronic pain. "Many pain medications target pain at the peripheral level, by reducing inflammation, or by activating analgesia systems in the brain to reduce the feeling of pain," says Coderre. "This is the first time that we can foresee medications that will target an established pain memory trace as a way of reducing pain hypersensitivity. We believe it's an avenue that may offer new hope to those suffering from chronic pain."

Other contributing researchers on this study include Andre Laferrière, Mark H Pitcher, Anne Haldane, Yue Huang, Virginia Cornea, Naresh Kumar, Fernando Cervero (all from the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain at McGill) and co-author Todd C Sacktor (State University of New York Downstate Medical Center).

This research was supported by grants from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Louise and Alan Edwards Foundation, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an Astra-Zeneca/AECRP fellowship.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Andre Laferrière, Mark H Pitcher, Anne Haldane, Yue Huang, Virginia Cornea, Naresh Kumar, Todd C Sacktor, Fernando Cervero, Terence J Coderre. PKMζ is essential for spinal plasticity underlying the maintenance of persistent pain. Molecular Pain, 2011; 7 (1): 99 DOI: 10.1186/1744-8069-7-99

Cite This Page:

McGill University. "Neuron memory key to taming chronic pain, new research suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120213154141.htm>.
McGill University. (2012, February 13). Neuron memory key to taming chronic pain, new research suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120213154141.htm
McGill University. "Neuron memory key to taming chronic pain, new research suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120213154141.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) — West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$15B Deal on Vets' Health Care Reached

$15B Deal on Vets' Health Care Reached

AP (July 28, 2014) — A bipartisan deal to improve veterans health care would authorize at least $15 billion in emergency spending to fix a veterans program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Two Americans Contract Ebola in Liberia

Two Americans Contract Ebola in Liberia

Reuters - US Online Video (July 28, 2014) — Two American aid workers in Liberia test positive for Ebola while working to combat the deadliest outbreak of the virus ever. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) — Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
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:
from the past week

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