Chapter 8. General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain

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By Kelly Servick If you’ve ever unwittingly grabbed a hot pan, you know our bodies have exquisite reflexes for avoiding or minimizing injuries. But once the damage is done, we also have a spontaneous urge to sooth the pain—to blow on a burned hand, cradle a broken toe, or suck on a cut finger. A new study reveals a neural circuit behind this soothing response in mice. Many common animal tests of pain don’t involve this circuit, the authors contend, which could explain why some painkillers that seem to work in mice prove ineffective in people. “We know there is not just one ‘pain pathway’ or a single brain site involved in processing pain,” says Kathleen Sluka, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who was not involved in the new work. “Understanding the different pathways that underlie unique behaviors could one day help us to individualize treatments” for patients based on how they respond to pain. Harvard University neurobiologist Qiufu Ma and his team wanted to tease apart different aspects of pain, not just in the brain but in the neurons throughout our bodies that relay signals up the spinal cord. Ma and his collaborators previously proposed two general groups of sensory neurons: ones that project to the outermost layer of skin and ones that branch to deeper tissue throughout the body—the underlying skin layers, bones, joints, and muscles. Ma suggests the first group is a first-line defense that monitors our surroundings for danger and prompts us to pull away from a hot pan or a sharp prick. The deeper nerves, he suggests, are attuned to the lasting pain of an injury or illness—and may drive the experience of unpleasantness and distress that comes with pain. Our reflexes avoid potential harm, Ma explains; “the suffering of pain is very different.” © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25774 - Posted: 12.11.2018

By Paula Span Shari Horne broke her toes a decade ago, and after surgery, “I have plates and pins and screws in my feet, and they get achy at times,” she said. So Ms. Horne, 66, applies a salve containing cannabidiol, derived from the cannabis, or marijuana, plant. It eases the pain. The salve didn’t help when she developed bursitis in her shoulder, but a tincture of cannabidiol mixed with T.H.C., the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, provided relief. Using a pipe, she also smokes “a few hits” of a cannabis brand called Blue Dream after dinner, because “I think relaxing is healthy for you.” Many of her neighbors in Laguna Woods, Calif., a community of mostly older adults in Orange County, where she serves on the City Council, have developed similar routines. “People in their 80s and 90s, even retired Air Force colonels, are finding such relief” with cannabis, said Ms. Horne. “Almost everybody I know is using it in one form or another” — including her husband Hal, 68, a retired insurance broker, who says it helps him sleep. In fact, so many Laguna Woods seniors use medical cannabis — for ailments ranging from arthritis and diabetes nerve pain to back injuries and insomnia — that the local dispensary, Bud and Bloom, charters a free bus to bring residents to its Santa Ana location to stock up on supplies. Along with a catered lunch, the bus riders get a seniors discount. Physicians who treat older adults expect their cannabis use to increase as the number of states legalizing medical marijuana keeps growing. After the midterm elections, when Utah and Missouri voters approved medical use, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, along with ten states that also have legalized recreational use. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25761 - Posted: 12.08.2018

By Sarah Vander Schaaff Nancy Baum Lipsitz remembers the night the pain began. She’d had a glass of white wine with a friend and went to bed with a terrible headache. The next day, she still felt horrible, the beginning of what she called a “rolling tide” of near constant migraines and lower level headaches. For three years she dealt with the symptoms. Sometimes she got tunnel vision, or a visual aura, a warning that a big headache was on the way. Those felt like “someone taking a pick and jabbing it through my nose and eye,” she said. Then there was the vomiting, numbness and sensitivity to light and noise. Her speech slurred. Less severe headaches felt like a “hangover.” She stopped exercising, socializing and overseeing her 15-year-old daughter’s homework, relying instead on her daughter to take care of her, bringing an ice pack, medication or whatever else she needed when a migraine attacked. “Everything you are as a human being gets stripped away,” Lipsitz said of what was ultimately diagnosed as refractory migraine. The one thing she did not give up was her work. As director of anesthesiology at Carnegie Hill Endoscopy in New York, she knew patients and staff depended on her. “I am not going to let a migraine shut me in the bedroom,” she said. She showed up at 6 a.m., no matter the pain. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25745 - Posted: 12.03.2018

Exposure to uncomfortable sensations elicits a wide range of appropriate and quick reactions, from reflexive withdrawal to more complex feelings and behaviors. To better understand the body’s innate response to harmful activity, researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health, have identified activity in the brain that governs these reactions. Using heat as the source of discomfort, experiments conducted by the center’s intramural program showed that bodily responses to pain are controlled by a neural pathway involving heightened activity in the spinal cord and two parts of the brainstem. Results of the study were published in the journal Neuron. “Much is known about local spinal cord circuits for simple reflexive responses, but the mechanisms underlying more complex behaviors remain poorly understood,” said Alexander T. Chesler, Ph.D., a Stadtman Investigator at NCCIH and senior author of the study. “We set out to describe the brain pathway that controls motor responses and involuntary behaviors when the body is faced with painful experiences.” Just as people respond to increasingly uncomfortable surfaces like a sandy beach on a hot day by lifting their feet, hopping, and eventually running to a water source, so, too, do laboratory models show a predictable sequence of behaviors. Experiments showed that the parts of a brainstem involved in this circuit are the parabrachial nucleus (PBNI) and the dorsal reticular formation in the medulla (MdD). A specific group of nerve cells in the PBNI is activated by standing on a hot surface, triggering escape responses through connections to the MdD. These PBNI cells express a gene called Tac1, which codes for substances called tachykinins that participate in many functions in the body and contribute to multiple disease processes. The MdD cells involved in this circuit also express Tac1. A different group of cells in the PBNI participates in the aspects of the response to noxious heat that involve the forebrain.

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25696 - Posted: 11.17.2018

By Gary Greenberg The Chain of Office of the Dutch city of Leiden is a broad and colorful ceremonial necklace that, draped around the shoulders of Mayor Henri Lenferink, lends a magisterial air to official proceedings in this ancient university town. But whatever gravitas it provided Lenferink as he welcomed a group of researchers to his city, he was quick to undercut it. “I am just a humble historian,” he told the 300 members of the Society for Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies who had gathered in Leiden’s ornate municipal concert hall, “so I don’t know anything about your topic.” He was being a little disingenuous. He knew enough about the topic that these psychologists and neuroscientists and physicians and anthropologists and philosophers had come to his city to talk about — the placebo effect, the phenomenon whereby suffering people get better from treatments that have no discernible reason to work — to call it “fake medicine,” and to add that it probably works because “people like to be cheated.” He took a beat. “But in the end, I believe that honesty will prevail.” Lenferink might not have been so glib had he attended the previous day’s meeting on the other side of town, at which two dozen of the leading lights of placebo science spent a preconference day agonizing over their reputation — as purveyors of sham medicine who prey on the desperate and, if they are lucky, fool people into feeling better — and strategizing about how to improve it. It’s an urgent subject for them, and only in part because, like all apostate professionals, they crave mainstream acceptance. More important, they are motivated by a conviction that the placebo is a powerful medical treatment that is ignored by doctors only at their patients’ expense. And after a quarter-century of hard work, they have abundant evidence to prove it. Give people a sugar pill, they have shown, and those patients — especially if they have one of the chronic, stress-related conditions that register the strongest placebo effects and if the treatment is delivered by someone in whom they have confidence — will improve. Tell someone a normal milkshake is a diet beverage, and his gut will respond as if the drink were low fat. Take athletes to the top of the Alps, put them on exercise machines and hook them to an oxygen tank, and they will perform better than when they are breathing room air — even if room air is all that’s in the tank. Wake a patient from surgery and tell him you’ve done an arthroscopic repair, and his knee gets better even if all you did was knock him out and put a couple of incisions in his skin. Give a drug a fancy name, and it works better than if you don’t. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25655 - Posted: 11.07.2018

By Ed Silverman, In a highly controversial move, the Food and Drug Administration approved an especially powerful opioid painkiller despite criticism that the medicine could be a “danger” to public health. And in doing so, the agency addressed wider regulatory thinking for endorsing such a medicine amid nationwide angst about overdoses and deaths attributed to opioids. The drug is called Dsuvia, which is a tablet version of an opioid marketed for intravenous delivery, but is administered under the tongue using a specially developed, single-dose applicator. These “unique features” make the medicine well-suited for the military and therefore was a priority for the Pentagon, a point that factored heavily into the decision, according to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Although an FDA advisory committee last month recommended approval, the agency was urged by critics not to endorse the drug because it is 10 times more powerful than fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid. Among those who opposed approval were four U.S. senators and the FDA advisory panel chair, who could not attend the meeting, but took the rare step of later writing a letter to the agency. The objections included complaints that Dsuvia has no unique medical benefits and might be easily diverted by medical personnel, despite a risk mitigation plan the manufacturer, AcelRx Pharmaceuticals, must maintain. There was also criticism the FDA failed to convene the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee, not just the Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee. Last year, the FDA refused to approve the medicine over concerns about usage directions and a need for additional safety data. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25642 - Posted: 11.03.2018

Devika G. Bansal Tools that use light, drugs, or temperature to make neurons fire or rest on command have become a mainstay in neuroscience. Thermogenetics, which enables neurons to respond to temperature shifts, first took off with fruit flies about a decade ago, but is emerging as a new trick to manipulate the neural functioning of other model organisms. That’s due to some advantages it affords over optogenetics—the light-based technique that started it all. Genetic toolkits such as thermogenetics and optogenetics follow a basic recipe: scientists pick a receptor that responds to an external cue such as temperature or light, express the receptor in specific neurons as a switch that changes the cell’s voltage—triggering or inhibiting firing—and then use the cue to turn the neural switch on or off. Optogenetics revolutionized our understanding of how the brain’s wiring affects animal behavior. But it comes with drawbacks. For one, delivering light into the deepest regions of the brains of nontransparent animals is a challenge. In mice, this requires surgically inserting optical fibers into the brain, tethering the animal to the light source. Researchers working with adult fruit flies can cut a window through the head cuticle to access the brain. In both cases, the necessary experimental setups are invasive and often time and effort intensive. Additionally, the light intensity required for optogenetics tends to damage tissue. “You pump a lot of light through the optical fiber to activate neurons,” says Vsevolod Belousov, a biochemist at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow who develops thermogenetic tools. “In general, this is not avoidable.” © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25636 - Posted: 11.02.2018

By: A. Benjamin Srivastava, M.D., and Mark S. Gold, M.D. T he opioid epidemic is one of the foremost public health crises in the United States. A recent analysis from Stanford University suggested that without any changes in currently available treatment, prevention, and public health approaches, we should expect to have 510,000 deaths from prescription opioids and street heroin from 2016 to 2025 in the US.1 Both the lay press and scientific literature are full of proposals, analyses, and potential solutions. Most focus on expanding access to and dissemination of overdose reversal treatment (naloxone), and the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) drugs methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Obviously, expanding the availability of naloxone and MAT drugs are important steps that can be readily implemented, especially using an approach similar to what was done during the HIV epidemic.2,3 But in addition to such efforts, we must invest in research to develop new treatments informed by neuroscientific evidence. A comprehensive discussion of naltrexone should be understood within the context of naloxone, which is considered its short-acting version based on relative half-lives (three hours for naloxone, 13 hours for oral naltrexone). When first synthesized, naloxone was a novel medication as well as a cornerstone of research into the pharmacology of the opioid system. Naloxone successfully competes against opioids to bind to the “Mu” opioid receptor on neurons, completely blocking the opioid’s downstream effects. As a “Mu opioid receptor (MOR) antagonist,” it reverses the potentially deadly effects of opioid overdose. © 2018 The Dana Foundation

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25609 - Posted: 10.24.2018

Ever wonder why things that normally feel gentle, like putting on soft shirts, are painful after a sunburn? In a study of four patients with a rare genetic disorder, NIH researchers found that PIEZO2, a gene previously shown to control our sense of our bodies in space and gentle touch, may also be responsible for tactile allodynia: the skin’s reaction to injury that makes normally gentle touches feel painful. This and a second NIH-funded study, both published in Science Translational Medicine, used mice to show how the gene may play an essential role in the nervous system’s reaction to injury and inflammation, making PIEZO2 a target for developing precise treatments for relieving the pain caused by cuts, burns, and other skin injuries. “For years scientists have been trying to solve the mystery of how gentle touch becomes painful. These results suggest PIEZO2 is the gene for tactile allodynia. We hope that these results will help researchers develop better treatments for managing this form of pain,” said Alexander T. Chesler, Ph.D., a Stadtman Investigator at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and a senior author of one of the studies. The PIEZO2 gene encodes what scientists call a mechanosensitive protein which produces electrical nerve signals in response to changes in cell shape, such as when skin cells and neurons of the hand are pressed against a table. Since its discovery in mice by a team led by Ardem Patapoutian, Ph.D., Scripps Research, La Jolla, CA, the lead author of the second paper, scientists have proposed that PIEZO2 plays an important role in touch and pain in humans.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25563 - Posted: 10.11.2018

Jake Harper Months in prison didn't rid Daryl of his addiction to opioids. "Before I left the parking lot of the prison, I was shooting up, getting high," he says. Daryl has used heroin and prescription painkillers for more than a decade. Almost four years ago he became one of more than 200 people who tested positive for HIV in a historic outbreak in Scott County, Ind. After that diagnosis, he says, he went on a bender. But about a year ago, Daryl had an experience that made him realize he might be able to stay away from heroin and opioids. For several days, he says, he couldn't find drugs. He spent that time in withdrawal. "It hurts all over. You puke, you get diarrhea," Daryl says. His friend offered him part of a strip of Suboxone, a brand-name version of the addiction medication buprenorphine that is combined with naloxone. Buprenorphine is a long-acting opioid that is generally used to treat opioid addiction. It reduces cravings for the stronger opioids he had been taking, prevents physical withdrawal from those drugs and comes with a significantly lower risk of fatal overdose. Daryl injected the buprenorphine, and his opioid withdrawal symptoms disappeared. (Daryl is his middle name, which NPR is using to protect his identity because it is illegal to use buprenorphine without a prescription.) "At first it felt like I was high," Daryl says. "But I think that's what normal feels like now. I have not been normal in a long time." © 2018 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25550 - Posted: 10.09.2018

Giorgia Guglielmi A study that claims to show that a homeopathic treatment can ease pain in rats has caused uproar after it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Groups that promote homeopathy in Italy, where there is currently a debate about how to label homeopathic remedies, have held the study up as evidence that the practice works. But several researchers have cast doubt on its claims. The authors acknowledge some errors flagged in an analysis of the paper by a separate researcher, but stand by its overall conclusions. Senior author, pharmacologist Chandragouda Patil of the R. C. Patel Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research in Dhule, India, also says that the results are preliminary and cannot yet be applied to people, and that he hopes that the team’s findings will encourage other researchers to conduct clinical studies. Researchers have presented evidence in support of homeopathy before — famously, in a 1988 Nature paper2 by French immunologist Jacques Benveniste that was later discredited. This latest claim has attracted attention, in part, because it passed peer review at the journal Scientific Reports. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its publisher Springer Nature, which also publishes Scientific Reports). © 2018 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25549 - Posted: 10.09.2018

By Michael Mosley Horizon Could taking a placebo, a pill which contains nothing but ground rice, really help cure back pain? The placebo effect is well studied but at the same time something of a mystery. The word placebo comes from the Latin "I shall please" and is associated with images of quack doctors selling dodgy cures. Yet it is also an important part of modern clinical trials, where patients are given either a placebo (sometimes called a dummy pill) or an active drug (without knowing which is which) and researchers then look to see if the drug outperforms the placebo, or vice versa. But what if you decided to do a placebo-controlled trial on back pain, with a twist? The twist being that everyone, unknowingly, was getting placebo? Would people taking the pills get better anyway? That's what we set out to test for BBC2's Horizon programme, Can my brain cure my body? With the help of Dr Jeremy Howick. an expert on the placebo effect from University of Oxford, we set out to see if we could cure real back pain with fake pills. It would be the largest experiment of its kind ever carried out in the UK, with 100 people from Blackpool taking part. Some were asked to act as a "control" group. The rest were told that they were taking part in a study - where they might receive the placebo or a powerful new painkiller. What they weren't told was that they would all get placebos, capsules containing nothing but ground rice. The pills were authentic looking and based on years of research. They were blue-and-white-striped, because that has been shown to have a greatest painkilling effect. They came in bottles, carefully labelled, warning of potential side effects and sternly reminding patients to keep out of the hands of children. All very convincing. © 2018 BBC

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25525 - Posted: 10.04.2018

By Ersilia M. DeFilippis I felt a shake and opened my eyes. The clock read 1:30 a.m. “We need to go to the hospital,” my mother whispered in my ear, clutching her stomach. She knew; it was the same pain she had experienced many times before. We were in California, many miles from home, many miles from my father (a doctor), who always knew what to do. At the time, I was early in my medical school training, although I knew all the intricate details of my mother’s medical history and realized she needed to get medical attention. When we arrived at the local emergency room in an affluent neighborhood, my mother was placed in a wheelchair and taken to the waiting room. She curled up on the cold barren hospital floor, the only position she could find comfortable. Although my mother usually puts on lipstick and high heels to go to the grocery store, this time, her hair was unkempt and her pajamas worn out. Her knees were tucked into her chest and her belly was distended. It should have been clear to onlookers that she was in agonizing pain, but people were hesitant, skeptical even. “Ma’am,” someone yelled. “Ma’am, we can’t have you lying on the floor. Get up.” My mother lay still. “Get up, ma’am,” she was told again, again more forcibly. They helped her back into the wheelchair. “Help me,” she said. “The pain is unbearable.” Reluctantly, they put her in a stretcher and prepared to place an IV in her arm. To convince them the pain was real, we asked them to call my father, who could fill in all of the medical details: her multiple prior hospitalizations, surgeries and diagnoses. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25511 - Posted: 10.01.2018

By Lisa Rein In my first Feldenkrais class, we lay on our backs with eyes closed and drifted our eyeballs left to right and back again. We shifted our heads from side to side as our eyes followed in their sockets. Then we changed it up, moving our eyes in the opposite direction from our heads. This may sound like a simple sequence. It’s deceptively challenging. And it continued for an hour, with sitting variations, eyes alternately open and shut, a brain workout that included tracking our thumbs as our bent arms moved at eye level from left to right and back again. These eye calisthenics were supposed to relieve my years of back pain. Yeah, right, I remember thinking that Sunday morning 18 months ago as I felt an odd exhaustion set in. Slow and subtle was harder than I thought. I fidgeted. My eyes grew tired. How was all of this commotion under my lids supposed to stop my right hip from unnecessary rotation when I walked and unfreeze my left shoulder and neck? I had tried the Feldenkrais Method under some duress. Although there aren’t a lot of good studies, my friend Jon told me it had reduced his lower back pain from excruciating to manageable. Too many chiropractors, osteopaths, yoga classes, trainers, acupuncturists and ibuprofen over 30 years of back pain. They had at best given me only temporary relief — or sometimes more pain. Feldenkrais sounded too nuanced, with its slow and subtle movements that were supposed to retrain how I walked, sat or held myself as I typed a story on my computer. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25502 - Posted: 09.28.2018

By Nicholas Bakalar Consuming caffeine regularly may increase the ability to withstand pain, a small study suggests. Researchers recruited 62 men and women, ages 19 to 77, and had them record their daily caffeine intake from coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate. They averaged 170 milligrams of caffeine a day, about the amount in two cups of coffee, although 15 percent of the group consumed more than 400 milligrams a day. The study is in Psychopharmacology. After seven days, they took the volunteers into a laboratory to test their pain tolerance using calibrated devices that gradually increased heat or pressure on a volunteer’s forearm or back. The people pressed a button on a hand-held device first when the sensation became painful, and then again when it became intolerable. The experiment controlled for sex and race, current tobacco use and alcohol consumption, among other variables that could affect pain sensation. Still, they found that the more caffeine consumed, the greater the tolerance for pain. “Diet can actually be a useful intervention for decreasing pain sensitivity,” said the lead author, Burel R. Goodin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s not just caffeine. A study has shown, for example, that a plant-based diet can actually help increase pain tolerance.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25501 - Posted: 09.28.2018

Stephanie O'Neill Shirley Avedon, 90,­­ had never been a cannabis user. But carpal tunnel syndrome that sends shooting pains into both of her hands and an aversion to conventional steroid and surgical treatments is prompting her to consider some new options. "It's very painful, sometimes I can't even open my hand," Avedon says. So for the second time in two months, she's climbed on board a bus that provides seniors at the Laguna Woods Village retirement community in Orange County, Calif., with a free shuttle to a nearby marijuana dispensary. The retired manager of an oncology office says she's seeking the same relief she saw cancer patients get from smoking marijuana 25 years ago. "At that time (marijuana) wasn't legal, so they used to get it off their children," she says with a laugh. "It was fantastic what it did for them." Avedon, who doesn't want to get high from anything she uses, picked up a topical cream on her first trip that was sold as a pain reliever. It contained cannabidiol or CBD, but was formulated without THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient. "It helped a little," she says. "Now I'm going back for the second time hoping they have something better." As more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use — 30 states plus the District of Columbia to date — the cannabis industry is booming. Among the fastest growing group of users: people over 50, with especially steep increases among those 65 and older. And some dispensaries are tailoring their pitches to seniors like Avedon who are seeking alternatives treatments for their aches, pains and other medical conditions. © 2018 npr

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 25458 - Posted: 09.17.2018

By Erin Blakemore Janet Jay is a cyborg. No, she’s not RoboCop or Darth Vader. But she shares a similarity with those characters: Her all-too-human body has been upgraded with a machine. A next-generation implant deep in Jay’s back stimulates her spinal cord, overriding her body’s pain signals to give her some relief from the back pain that has plagued her for years. In an article on Popular Science’s website, Jay writes about her experience with pain and the next-generation way she’s finding relief. She is hardly alone in her suffering. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an estimated 25.3 million Americans, or 11.2 percent of U.S. adults, experience chronic pain. It can interfere with work and home life and leave patients debilitated, disabled and depressed. So it makes sense that Jay jumped at the chance to experience long-term pain relief with the help of a spinal-cord stimulator. Jay lays out the hows and whys of spinal stimulation, and she paints a vivid picture of a life in agony, a journey that has included skeptical doctors, plenty of painkillers and unanswered questions about the future. She also describes her path to spinal stimulation, how the device works with the body to short-circuit pain, and the many roadblocks to relief that patients face. “Even for me, the battle is not over,” Jay writes. “Since this surgery I’ve actually had another disc herniate, complicating everything. My spine isn’t cured, and I still hurt all the time. But the pain is far more controlled, and I can function much better at my current level of discomfort.” © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25455 - Posted: 09.17.2018

Aimee Cunningham Certain brain and personality characteristics may help predict whether a sugar pill can provide relief to someone suffering from chronic pain. In a small study, patients with persistent back pain who responded to a placebo treatment benefitted from up to a 33 percent reduction in their pain intensity. These people had distinctive features in their brains and certain personality traits, researchers report online September 12 in Nature Communications. About 20 percent of U.S. adults, or about 50 million people, had chronic pain in 2016, according to new data released September 13 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic pain was defined as feeling pain on most days, if not every day, over the previous six months. Being able to identify people who respond to a placebo might mean doctors could give these individuals the option of a pain reliever that’s cheap, free of side effects and — unlike opioids, which are often prescribed to treat persistent pain — not addictive. “We need to seriously think about placebo as a treatment option, especially in chronic pain patients,” says neuroscientist and study coauthor A. Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25452 - Posted: 09.15.2018

By Stephani Sutherland With nearly 50,000 drug overdose deaths from opioids last year and an estimated two million Americans addicted, the opioid crisis continues to rage throughout the U.S. This statistic must be contrasted with another: 25 million Americans live with daily chronic pain, for which few treatment options are available apart from opioid medications. Opioid drugs like morphine and Oxycontin are still held as the gold standard when it comes to relieving pain. But it has become brutally obvious that opioids have dangerous side effects, including physical dependence, addiction and the impaired breathing that too often leads to death from an overdose. Researchers have long been searching for a drug that would relieve pain without such a heavy toll, with few results so far. Now a study in monkeys published in Science Translational Medicine shows a new type of opioid drug met all the criteria on drug developers’ wish list. The findings even suggest that instead of causing addiction, the new compound might be used to curb addiction and pain all at once. The study was led by Mei-Chuan (Holden) Ko, a researcher at Wake Forest University, and medical chemist Nurulain Zaveri, founder of California-based Astraea Therapeutics. “They’ve got something here that’s really important,” says William Schmidt, a pharmaceutical consultantbased in Davis, Calif., who was not involved in the work. “I think the chances of a compound with these properties moving forward are high, and simultaneously pretty exciting.” © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 25422 - Posted: 09.07.2018

Shawna Williams Deciphering the communications of electric fish in their native streams is not for the faint of heart. “Once in a while, there is a thunderstorm ten kilometers away, then at some point the water level of those streams rises by one meter in one hour or so,” says Jan Benda, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “Then we are in big trouble with our equipment.” Even in the absence of extreme weather, given the normal heat and humidity levels at his team’s research sites in Panama and Columbia, “things break and then you sit there in the field and try to solder a wire back to something late at night,” he says, laughing. “You’re dreaming about your nice lab where everything is so easy.” To reach the study site with their equipment, researchers traveled by boat, and then on foot. Benda was driven from his comfortable lab a few years ago by a gaping hole in the body of scientific knowledge: weakly electric fish, which use electricity to communicate but not to stun prey, are popular subjects for neuroscientists who want to know how vertebrate brains process sensory information, but few if any researchers had ever eavesdropped on the animals zap-chatting in nature. Gaining this type of insight into the behavior of a species studied for decades in the lab is “a massively important undertaking,” says Malcolm MacIver, a neuroscientist and engineer researching animal behavior at Northwestern University in Illinois. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Animal Communication
Link ID: 25401 - Posted: 08.31.2018