In a promising development that could transform pain management, researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered a new signaling pathway in the brain that offers effective, non-opioid pain relief in mice.
The findings were published in the journal Neuron, in a study titled “A Cholinergic Circuit That Relieves Pain, Despite Opioid Tolerance.”
The research has identified an alternative circuit in the brain that can relieve pain, even in animals that have developed opioid tolerance.
Unlike opioids, this new pathway doesn’t induce tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, or risk of addiction.
A Fresh Approach
The researchers focused on a region in the brain known as the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG), a known crossroads for pain control mechanisms.
They investigated the role of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and how it affects activity in the vlPAG.
By stimulating an acetylcholine receptor called alpha-7 (⍺7) in mice, the researchers observed an analgesic effect that lasted for several hours, without inducing tolerance or addiction.
Importantly, this method was effective even in mice that had developed a tolerance to opioids.
Potential for Human Applications
“This is a potentially valuable target for new development of analgesics,” said Daniel McGehee, Ph.D., Professor of Anesthesia and Critical Care at UChicago and the senior author of the study.
“We see that inhibiting these cells is important in terms of controlling pain, and it’s a very profound mechanism that works beautifully and to a similar degree to what we see with opioids.”
This discovery opens up the possibility of developing new classes of painkillers by either stimulating the release of acetylcholine or specifically targeting ⍺7 receptors.
Given the ongoing opioid crisis and the urgent need for alternative pain management strategies, this research represents a significant step forward.
The research also highlights the potential role of acetylcholine in the development of chronic pain conditions and suggests that modifying acetylcholine signaling could not only relieve pain but also prevent the onset of chronic pain.
This groundbreaking study provides hope for the development of effective, non-addictive pain management solutions, thereby potentially offering a way to mitigate the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic.
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The research findings can be found in Neuron.
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