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By ANAHAD O'CONNOR THE FACTS Certain regions of the human brain are dedicated to the various senses. The visual cortex handles vision, for example, while the auditory cortex processes sound. But what happens if one of the senses is lost? Do the neurons in the auditory cortex of a deaf person atrophy and go to waste, for instance, or are they put to work processing vision and other senses? In studies, scientists have shown that when one sense is lost, the corresponding brain region can be recruited for other tasks. Researchers learned this primarily by studying the blind. Brain imaging studies have found that blind subjects can locate sounds using both the auditory cortex and the occipital lobe, the brain’s visual processing center. But recently a similar phenomenon was discovered in the deaf. In a study financed by the National Institutes of Health and published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers recruited 13 deaf volunteers and a dozen volunteers with normal hearing and looked at what happened in their brains when touch and vision responses were stimulated. They found that both senses were processed in Heschl’s gyrus, where the auditory cortex is situated, suggesting that this part of the brain had been dedicated to other senses. Other studies have shown that structural changes in the auditory cortex are noticeable in the brains of deaf children from a very early age. THE BOTTOM LINE Losing one sense can cause the brain to become rewired. Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 17133 - Posted: 08.07.2012

By Jessica Gross An amiable joke can be much more effective than darker humor at improving mood, according to recent research from Stanford University. In the study, led by psychologist Andrea Samson and James Gross and published in February in Cognition & Emotion, 40 people in Switzerland and 37 people in the U.S. looked at photographs of upsetting things such as car accidents, corpses and dangerous animals. They were instructed to either say nothing about the images, use good-natured humor focusing on the absurdity of life or the human condition, or use mean-spirited humor. The experimenters offered examples of each type of response to help coach the subjects; given a picture of a snake with its prey, for instance, “Looks like someone's bitten off more than they can chew” exhibits positive humor, whereas “Nourishing my future handbag” has a negative spin. In both countries, those who made benevolent jokes about the images had more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions afterward than those who laughed mockingly at the pictures, although both groups who used humor fared better than those who simply looked silently. The upshot: when something upsets you, humor can help. The next time you try to laugh off a grim situation, reflect on whether your jokes skew negative (“My boss isn't just dumb; he has terrible body odor, too!”) or positive (“No matter what happens at work, I've got it better than a politician these days …”). You might find tweaking your comedic style could give more of a boost. © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17074 - Posted: 07.21.2012

by Sarah C. P. Williams The vast majority of adults have had a sore back at some point in their lives. If they're lucky, the pain subsides after a few days or weeks. But for some, whose initial injuries appear no different than the fortunate ones, back pain lasts for years. Now, researchers have discovered a difference in brain scans between the two groups of patients that appears early in the course of the pain. The finding could lead to not only ways of identifying patients who are the most at risk for long-term pain but to new treatments or preventions for chronic pain. "This is the very first time we can say that if we have two subjects who have the same type of injury for the same amount of time, we can predict who will become a chronic pain patient versus who will not," says neuroscientist Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University, Chicago, who led the new work. Over the past 2 decades, Apkarian's lab has run many studies comparing the brains of patients with chronic back pain with those of healthy people, finding differences in brain anatomy or the function of certain regions. But the study designs made it hard to sort out which brain changes were consequences of the chronic pain—or the patients' painkillers or altered lifestyles—versus those that drove the pain's chronic nature. Apkarian and colleagues have now tracked the brains of back pain patients over time rather than comparing single neural snapshots. His team began with 39 people who had experienced moderate back pain—a five or six on a self-described scale of 10—for 1 to 4 months. Over the next year, the team scanned the patients' brains four times and followed their pain. By year's end, 20 of the patients had recovered, while 19 continued to hurt, meeting the criteria for chronic pain. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 16988 - Posted: 07.02.2012

By Deborah Kotz, Globe Staff I get occasional migraines, and the only good thing about the throbbing pain, nausea, and depressed mood is the sense of euphoria that comes when the pain finally lifts. For some headache sufferers, however, the pain never goes away -- for months, years, or even decades. I received a call recently from a relative whose teenage son developed a headache one day that’s lasted two months and counting, causing him to miss his final months of high school. His diagnosis: new daily persistent headache, a wastebasket term given when everything else has been ruled out. Dr. Elizabeth Loder, chief of the division of headache and pain at Brigham and Women’s/Faulkner Hospital, estimated that about 5 percent of the patients she sees at her clinic have new daily persistent headache. More commonly, patients come in with chronic migraines that result from medication overuse or because a particular drug isn’t working for them or has been prescribed at too low a dose. With new daily persistent headache, or NDPH, however, none of the array of migraine medications seems to work, even when prescribed at optimal doses. There’s no known cause such as a head injury, tumor, or seizure condition. And, unlike the typical headache sufferer, those with NDPH can name the exact day when their headache began -- even what they were doing when it started -- because they’ve never before had a problem with headaches and suddenly they’re in pain all the time with no relief in sight. © 2012 NY Times Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16953 - Posted: 06.23.2012

by Helen Thomson EVER wanted to know what an invisible hand looks like? Well, it is slightly wider than a real hand, and it has shorter fingers too. For the first time, the perceived shape of a phantom limb has been measured. This should make it possible to learn more about how the brain represents what we look like. The illusion of a phantom limb can kick in after an amputation or in people missing limbs from congenital disease. The result is the sensation that the limb is, in fact, present. One theory suggests people with phantom limbs take cues from those around them to work out what their missing body part looks like. Another theory is that the sensation of an invisible limb reflects brain activity in regions that map our body in space. To clarify the sensory origins of phantom limbs, Matthew Longo at Birkbeck, University of London, and colleagues enlisted the help of CL - a 38-year-old woman born without a left arm, who periodically feels she has a phantom hand. They asked her to place her right hand beneath a board and indicate where she believed her fingertips and knuckles were. She then repeated the exercise imagining that her phantom left hand was beneath the board instead. Previous studies have shown that we tend to underestimate our finger length increasingly from thumb to little finger. This mirrors differences in the sensitivity and size of areas in the brain's somatosensory cortex that are thought to represent each digit, probably by making use of visual, mechanical and tactile feedback. The thumb is represented by a larger area of the cortex than the little finger. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16917 - Posted: 06.16.2012

By Rachel Ehrenberg Among a small number of related families from northern Pakistan, some individuals never feel pain in any part of their bodies. Scientists studying six such children found that by the age of 4, they all had injuries to the lips or tongue from repeatedly biting themselves. Bruises, cuts and broken bones were common, though fractures were diagnosed only long after the fact, when weird, painless limping or the inability to use a limb called attention to the injury. Tests showed that the pain-free children perceived sensations of warm and cold, tickling and pressure. They could feel the prick of a needle, but it didn’t hurt. Two had been scalded — painlessly — by hot liquids. And one boy who performed street theater by putting knives through his arms and walking on hot coals died after jumping off a roof on his 14th birthday. Besides their inability to feel pain, the Pakistani individuals studied by the scientists had something else in common: mutations in a gene called SCN9A. That gene encodes the instructions for a protein that forms a passageway for letting sodium ions into nerve cells. Known as Nav1.7, this particular ion channel sits on pain-sensing nerves; when a nerve is stimulated enough to warrant sending a signal to the brain, a flood of sodium ions rush into the cell. Among the pain-free Pakistanis, various mutations in SCN9A altered the blueprints for Nav1.7 in different ways, but with the same result: The channel didn’t work. Muted nerve cells could no longer alert the brain when the body encountered something painful. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 16916 - Posted: 06.16.2012

By Keith Seinfeld If you came face to face with a great whale, you might find a few surprises in its chin: Like whiskers, if you look closely at the surface. And, hidden inside the chin, lies a mysterious sensory organ, unknown to centuries of whalers and biologists. You just need the right tools to find it: a high-tech, oversized x-ray machine, and the right saws to slice it into thin pieces that fit in a microscope. A group of scientists based at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, BC, have done all that looking—and they discovered an organ that serves a crucial purpose and answers a longstanding mystery. Here is a graphic from the science study, published in Nature (expand the graphic to full screen to for best browsing of the information and images): How do great whales, such as humpbacks and blues, drive their jaws so wide open and then snap them shut, while swimming at full speed? “These heads are five meters long and weigh close to ten tons,” says Nick Pyenson, first author of the new study, published in the journal Nature. He’s now the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution. “What we found in the course of our investigation into the jaw and skull anatomy was this surprising structure in the chin. We had no idea what it was.” KPLU is a service of Pacific Lutheran University | ©2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16847 - Posted: 05.29.2012

By Stephani Sutherland Amputees who experience phantom limb pain can sometimes get relief from an optical illusion. This trick involves looking in a mirror at the reflection of a healthy limb from a certain angle, which causes it to appear where the missing limb should be. Seeing the limb move freely fools the brain into relieving the pain. Now a study suggests this technique might also work for arthritis pain. Cognitive scientist Laura Case, working in the lab of Vilayanur S. Ramachandran (a member of Scientific American Mind’s board of advisers) at the University of California, San Diego, used a modified version of the mirror technique to superimpose a researcher’s healthy hand over a subject’s arthritic hand, which was painfully constricted or contorted. Subjects mimicked the slow, purposeful movements of the researcher’s hand with their own unseen hand. After experiencing the illusion of their hand moving smoothly, subjects rated their arthritis pain slightly lower than before and had an increased range of motion. The result suggests that the toxic soup of inflammatory molecules bathing an arthritic joint is not the only source of painful sensations. “The brain has learned to associate movement with pain,” says Case, who presented her results at the Society for Neuroscience meeting last November in Washington, D.C. The illusion provides the brain with a way to disconnect the sight from the sensation. Next, the group will investigate whether this type of mirror therapy might provide long-term benefits for arthritis, a condition that affects about 50 million Americans. © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16836 - Posted: 05.24.2012

By Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent Many patients with advanced cancer and other debilitating conditions are being "under-treated" for their pain, new guidance from the health watchdog says. NICE wants doctors in England and Wales to make more use of morphine and other strong opioids - the only adequate pain relief source for many patients. The guidelines recommend doctors discuss patients' concerns. These may include addiction, tolerance, side-effects and fears that treatment implies the final stage of life. The guidance deals with five opioids: morphine, diamorphine (heroin), buprenorphine, fentanyl and oxycodone. They come either from the opium poppy or are synthetically produced versions. NICE - the National Institute for Clinical Excellence - says "misinterpretations and misunderstanding" have surrounded the use of strong opioids for decades, which has resulted in errors "causing under-dosing and avoidable pain, or overdosing and distressing adverse effects". There is also the legacy of Dr Harold Shipman who used diamorphine to murder his victims. It has made many doctors wary of prescribing strong opioids. NICE says the aim is to improve both pain management and patient safety. BBC © 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16834 - Posted: 05.23.2012

By Daisy Yuhas Thinking of something else is a time-honored method for coping with pain. Indeed, psychologists have demonstrated repeatedly that what you think about can modulate the pain you experience. But what's less clear is how exactly that effect plays out in the body. In a study published today in Current Biology, neuroscientists have found that distraction does more than merely divert your mind; it actually sends signals that bar pain from reaching the central nervous system. "This study connects two important fields of pain research," says lead author Christian Sprenger, a physician and neuroscientist at the University Medical Center Hamburg–Eppendorf in Germany. "There are many studies describing the sensitization processes of the spinal cord. On the other hand, it is well known that certain psychological factors are good predictors of the development of pain." Sprenger and his colleagues told 20 male volunteers they would be participating in an experiment that would study concentration and memory. Each subject, while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map their neural activity, used a computer screen to take a memory test called an "n-back test." In such a test, subjects recall a specific letter either one or two letters back from the end of a series. As initial sessions confirmed, remembering a letter two-back is more challenging than a letter one-back. Researchers gave volunteers either the one- or two-back test so that they could study the nervous system under two levels of cognitive load. © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 16814 - Posted: 05.19.2012

By Deborah Kotz, Globe Staff Most people who suffer regularly from debilitating migraine headaches don’t get the appropriate treatment to prevent them, according to new guidelines issued earlier this week from the American Academy of Neurology. And a disappointing study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that injections of Botulinum toxin A, or Botox, had smaller-than-expected benefits for those with chronic, near-daily headaches, working only modestly better than a placebo. “There are several reasons why patients aren’t being properly treated,” said Dr. Stephen Silberstein, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who led the guideline committee. “They may be misdiagnosed with tension or sinus headaches or may be using a medication that doesn’t work or is prescribed at too low a dose.” (Five of the six guideline authors, including Silberstein, disclosed that they had previously served on advisory boards or accepted honoraria or consulting fees from manufacturers of drugs used to treat migraines.) Migraines -- which are frequently accompanied by nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances or aura, and sensitivity to light -- affect about 1 in 10 Americans and can be triggered by certain foods, lack of sleep, stress, jet lag, fasting, and hormonal changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Nearly 40 percent of migraine sufferers have at least four or five headaches a month, and a smaller percentage have “chronic migraines” defined as having pain at least 15 days a month. Women are also more likely to get them than men. © 2012 NY Times Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16726 - Posted: 04.30.2012

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR A randomized trial of steroid injections for back pain has shown that they are no more effective than a placebo. Because the long-term benefits of surgery remain unproven and pain medicines often have serious side effects, doctors have increasingly turned to steroid injections to treat lumbosacral radiculopathy, a common cause of back pain. The condition stems from damage to the discs between the vertebrae that often leads to sciatica, numbness or pain in the legs. Researchers tested 84 adults with back pain of less than six months’ duration, dividing them into three groups. They received either steroids, etanercept (an arthritis medicine) or an inactive saline solution in two injections given two weeks apart. At the end of one month, they were assessed for pain. Leg and back pain decreased in all three groups, but there were no statistically significant differences among them. The researchers conclude that steroids may provide some short-term analgesic effect, but that the improvement in all of the patients was mainly due to normal healing. The lead author, Dr. Steven P. Cohen, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, was disappointed with the results but said that he still hopes drugs like etanercept might someday be proven effective. But for now, he said, “the strongest evidence for back pain relief is with exercise.” Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16719 - Posted: 04.28.2012

By Tina Hesman Saey A new treatment mimics acupuncture’s the pain-blocking mechanism of acupuncture but offers longer-lasting pain relief, at least in mice. Injections of an enzyme called PAP into an acupuncture point behind the knees of mice relieved pain caused by inflammation for up to six days, Julie Hurt and Mark Zylka of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report online April 23 in Molecular Pain. That’s almost 100 times longer than pain relief from acupuncture, which typically lasts about 1½ hours. Long-lasting pain relief “is truly important, clinically,” says Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester in New York. She and colleagues previously demonstrated that inserting and manipulating acupuncture needles causes the body to release a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine acts as a local anesthetic to slow down pain messages sent to the brain, she says. “The beauty of Mark’s study is that it takes advantage of the molecular mechanism of acupuncture and improves upon it,” Nedergaard says. Zylka had already been studying PAP, which stands for prostatic acid phosphatase, when Nedergaard’s research on the release of adenosine during acupuncture was published. The study gave him the idea that boosting adenosine at acupuncture points, which are located where nerves contact muscle, could be a localized way to treat pain. Adenosine lasts only minutes in the human body, so injections of the chemical itself were not an option. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16718 - Posted: 04.28.2012

By Katherine Harmon Eager eaters know that gulping a Slurpee or inhaling a sundae can cause that brief seizing sensation known in the not-so-technical literature as “brain freeze” or “ice cream headache.” Just what causes this common cautionary condition has remained mysterious to sufferers and scientists alike (not that the two categories need remain mutually exclusive). A new study, presented April 22 at the Experimental Biology 2012 annual meeting in San Diego, proposes a probable answer. And it’s one that could also suggest new treatments for more serious conditions, such as migraines and traumatic brain injuries. The findings were not easy to obtain and required 17 courageous volunteers to submit themselves to brain freeze. These healthy, self-sacrificing adults took sips of extra-cold water through a straw, which they aimed at the roof of their mouths. While their lips were sipping away, subjects’ brains were monitored via transcranial Doppler, which can sense changes in arterial blood flow. As soon as volunteers achieved and then emerged from a freeze, they alerted the researchers. Researchers then were able to pinpoint changes in brain activity at those precise moments, comparing those signals with measurements taken under control conditions when subject sipped on room temperature water. © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16694 - Posted: 04.23.2012

Caroline Morley, online picture researcher Originating in ancient China, acupuncture has been used for 2500 years. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that disease is caused by blockages and imbalances of energy (known as chi) flowing through meridians in the body, and can be eased by inserting needles at specific points. Since the 1970s, acupuncture has become more popular outside east Asia. Once widely considered a quack medicine, there is now tentative support for its use in certain conditions from respected official bodies such as the World Health Organization, the National Health Service in the UK and the National Institutes of Health in the US. There is evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating a range of conditions including spinal injuries, infertility and the side effects of chemotherapy , and that its effects aren't entirely due to the placebo effect. However, despite extensive research, the mechanism of this ancient healing art remains unknown. For example, the two vision-related points GB37 (gall bladder) and UB60 (urinary bladder) showed deactivation in visual brain areas like the cuneus. The team concluded that acupuncture seems to affect the brain's processing of both physical sensations and thought. For now, though, the source of our chi remains elusive. Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032960 © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16641 - Posted: 04.12.2012

By BARRY MEIER SEATTLE — It was the type of conversation that Dr. Claire Trescott dreads: telling physicians that they are not cutting it. But the large health care system here that Dr. Trescott helps manage has placed controls on how painkillers are prescribed, like making sure doctors do not prescribe too much. Doctors on staff have been told to abide by the guidelines or face the consequences. So far, two doctors have decided to leave, and two more have remained but are being closely monitored. “It is excruciating,” said Dr. Trescott, who oversees primary care at Group Health. “These are often very good clinicians who just have this fatal flaw.” High-strength painkillers known as opioids represent the most widely prescribed class of medications in the United States. And over the last decade, the number of prescriptions for the strongest opioids has increased nearly fourfold, with only limited evidence of their long-term effectiveness or risks, federal data shows. “Doctors are prescribing like crazy,” said Dr. C. Richard Chapman, the director of the Pain Research Center at the University of Utah. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 16626 - Posted: 04.09.2012

By Erica Westly Millions of patients benefit from opioids such as morphine and codeine, but the pain relief they provide often comes with intense itching. In some cases, the irritation is so bad that patients will opt to cut back on painkillers. Now a study in the October 14 issue of Cell has found a possible explanation—the first step to creating drugs that will not make patients choose between experiencing itchiness and pain. Until recently, many experts had assumed that itching from opioids was unavoidable because it is a common side effect of drugs that interact with the nervous system. The brain has four main types of receptors that respond to opioids, and every type has many structural variants, called isoforms. Most opioids are nonspecific, which means they bind to all the isoforms. This leads to powerful pain relief, although scientists do not know exactly why. In the new research, a team led by itch researcher Zhou-Feng Chen of Washington University in St. Louis showed that only one opioid receptor isoform is responsible for itching—and it is not involved in pain. Mice bred to have fewer of these particular receptors did not scratch themselves when given an opioid, but they did exhibit the telltale mouse signs of pain relief, such as less flinching when researchers flicked their tails. Now that scientists know that pain relief and itching can be decoupled, they will try to make itch-free opioid drugs a reality. © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16608 - Posted: 04.04.2012

Roger Dobson , Sanjeela Pahl It's bad enough that they suffer second-degree burns at the drop of a sunhat and hurt feelings from a barrage of barbs aimed at their fiery heads. Now it seems nature might have added injury to the insults heaped on redheads, by making them extra sensitive to physical pain. Researchers at Southampton University Hospital are carrying out trials this year to discover whether pale-skinned patients who share their hair colour with Elizabeth I may require more anaesthetic than the rest of the population. The results should either confirm or disprove previous research in the United States suggesting that redheads are indeed more susceptible to pain. Red hair results from variants of a gene that plays a key role in human hair and skin colour. The same gene is involved in the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. The Southampton study aims to find out whether this could explain redheads' apparently heightened sensitivity. In the trials, due to end in September, volunteers aged over 30 with red hair are anaesthetised and subjected to electrical charges through their thigh. Their reactions will be compared with those of a group of men and women with brown or black hair. If it turns out that red-haired people do feel more pain, it will help to explain previous research showing they are more fearful than other groups about visiting the dentist. An American study found that redheads were more anxious about dental treatment and more than twice as likely to avoid it. A second study by the same researchers found that women with red hair needed 19 per cent more painkiller to stop them flinching from unpleasant stimulation than women with dark hair. "Redheads experience more pain from a given stimulus and therefore require more anaesthesia to alleviate that pain," said Dr Edwin Liem, who led the study at Louisville University. © independent.co.uk

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 16573 - Posted: 03.26.2012

By Sandra G. Boodman, Driving south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway bound for his Adams Morgan home in June 2009, Michael Herndon struggled to cope with the implications of what the doctor had just told him. For months Herndon had tried to find out why the headache he developed on Nov. 15, 2008 — he remembered the exact date — had not gone away. The 41-year-old had consulted neurologists and ear, nose and throat specialists as well as an allergist and ophthalmologist, but none of them had figured out what was causing his pain. “I was starting to hit a mental and physical wall,” recalled Herndon, a consumer outreach specialist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “I’d been chasing this for more than six months. No one could tell me what it was. I just remember thinking, ‘How am I going to be able to function if it never goes away?’ ” He had taken multiple courses of antibiotics and corticosteroids as well as over-the-counter pain relievers, and he had even undergone sinus surgery, all to no avail. Doctors had ruled out a brain tumor and other ailments but had no idea why his head, and increasingly his nose, still hurt. A month later, Herndon learned the name of his disorder. It would be another year before he found effective help to cope with his chronic, and still largely inexplicable, head pain. © 1996-2012 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 16572 - Posted: 03.26.2012

By Devin Powell Proteins turned on by opium and similar substances in the body have now been caught in action. Two new snapshots show how cellular proteins lasso molecules in the opium family, revealing the 3-D structure of such pairings for the first time. The work represents a major step toward designing more specific analgesics and other drugs that lack opioids’ nasty side effects, two teams of researchers report online March 21 in Nature. “Both are landmark studies,” says Gavril Pasternak, a neuroscientist who designs opioids at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, and who wasn’t involved in either study. “These structures will quickly be utilized with goal of developing nonaddicting painkillers and new ways to combat drug abuse.” Proteins that respond to opium and opiumlike molecules protrude from the surfaces of cells throughout the brain, spinal cord and gut. The body’s own hormones and brain chemicals such as endorphins can bind to these proteins to turn the molecular switches on and off to control pain, regulate breathing and change mood. Many of today’s most powerful painkillers work by switching on one of these proteins, called the mu opioid receptor. But the relief this provides comes at a price. Derivatives of opium, such as morphine and codeine, are addictive and can cause breathing problems and constipation. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 16557 - Posted: 03.22.2012