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EMBARGOED for release February 17, 1997, 5 p.m. EST
SUGAR, SUCKLING TRIGGER NATURAL PAIN CONTROL
People come equipped with built-in pain control mechanisms.The tricky part is switching them on. Neuroscientists at theUniversity of Maryland at Baltimore have found that sugar andsuckling activate natural pain-modulating systems in babies. Theyalso learned that this mechanism is controlled at least partly inthe spinal cord. Although their research was conducted on a ratmodel, the findings could lead to new ways to stimulate naturalpain-control mechanisms in human infants following injury andinflammation. Dr. Ronald Dubner, Dr. Ke Ren and colleagues reporton a study of the underlying mechanisms, spinal cord involvementand developmental implications of the power of sugar water andsuckling to reduce sensitivity to pain, in the February 18, 1997issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Dubner is chairman of oral and craniofacial biological sciencesat the University of Maryland Dental School, where Ren is anassistant professor. "Pain is a serious clinical problem inpremature, newborn and young infants," Dubner said."Fear that anesthetic agents produce respiratory depressionand low blood pressure often result in insufficient pain control.These studies will lead to a better understanding of thedevelopment of analgesic mechanisms and provide new clinicalapproaches for engaging endogenous analgesic mechanisms inpremature, newborn and young infants."
Pain Control - 2
Dubner, Ren and colleagues evaluated the effectiveness ofsugar water and suckling on responses to heat and pressure of10-day-old rats with inflamed forepaws. They found that five to10 minutes of suckling combined with three minutes of sugar watergiven by mouth doubled the baby rats’ forepaw tolerance topain. The suckling-sugar treatment did not reduce hindpawsensitivity to the same stimuli.
Study results suggest that the parts of the central nervoussystem controlling upper and lower extremities mature atdifferent rates, Dubner said. This information could be vital tothe development of effective clinical pain-control for infants.
The neuroscientists also measured the expression of a proteincalled Fos, which is produced by neurons firing in response topainful stimuli. They found that the suckling and sugar treatmentsignificantly reduced the amount of Fos in the upper spinalcolumn, where the response to forepaw inflammation and pain iscontrolled. Fos expression in the lower spine after hindpawinflammation did not drop significantly.
Very little has been known about where the neurons for painsensitivity are located. This outcome indicates that themechanism for the reduced sensitivity to pain that results fromsuckling and sugar resides at least in part in the spinal column,Dubner said. "These studies suggest that there is aninteraction between the nerves that transmit perception of tasteand touch in the mouth and pain-modulating circuits in thebrain," he said. "Future studies will need to analyzethe contribution of each component, including feeding sucrose,non-nutritive suckling and maternal contact."
The research was supported by National Institutes of Healthgrants and a Research Scientist Award.
Materials provided by University of Maryland at Baltimore. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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