In a new study, researchers found brain mechanisms that have the potential to block arthritis pain.
The research was conducted by a team from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
Millions of people around the world are affected by pain, a multidimensional experience characterized by interactions between our emotional, cognitive, sensory and motor functions.
Because pain is a complex condition, treating it efficiently continues to pose a challenge for physicians.
Past pain research typically has focused upon the spinal cord or the peripheral areas of the nervous system located outside the spinal cord and brain.
The new study examined how some mechanisms in the brain contribute to pain.
To better understand what pain-related changes may occur in the brain, and how to normalize those changes, the team applied an arthritis pain model and focused on the amygdala, which are almond-shaped clusters located deep inside each of the brain’s temporal lobes.
The amygdala is part of what is known as the limbic brain, a complex arrangement of nerve cells and networks that control basic survival functions, motivations, and emotions like fear and play a central role in disorders like anxiety, addiction, and pain.
The study specifically looked at activating what is known as group II metabotropic glutamate receptors, or II mGluRs, within the amygdala.
There are three groups of mGluRs that serve opposing functions, and activating these receptors can trigger an excitatory response between cells, which increases pain-related activity, or they can trigger an inhibitory response between cells that decreases pain-related activity.
To attempt the activation of an inhibitory response, the team used a previously developed compound called LY379268.
Though not commercially available, LY379268 has been explored by industry and demonstrates the ability to decrease anxiety while producing very few relatively minor side effects.
The team injected the drug systemically so it could circulate and act anywhere in the body or nervous system and then observed what, if any effects it produced.
Then they blocked the II mGluR receptors in the amygdala to see if that would eliminate any analgesic or pain-relieving effects.
The team says if they can activate the inhibitory receptor, they could decrease brain activity, which also would decrease pain.
Their future work will test whether or not managing pain for conditions like arthritis is age-dependent.
Some compounds like LY379268 may or may not work in the older population, but that can’t be known until basic research is conducted on those people.
One author of the study is Volker E. Neugebauer, M.D., Ph.D.
The study is published in Neuropharmacology.
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