Researchers in Switzerland have uncovered a serotonin receptor that can “turn off” chronic pain.
Thomas Nevian and Mirko Santello, scientists from the University of Bern, looked into the cellular mechanisms in the brains of mice that develop pain and pain memory. Their goal was to see if the perception of chronic pain could be somehow turned off.
They looked at modifying neurons in the region of the brain called Gyrus Cinguli, which is associated with the emotional aspects of pain.
“The neurons are constantly activated by a noxious stimulus, thus building a memory trace for pain that becomes irreversible. Our idea was to understand this mechanism better to derive potential new treatment strategies.”
“It has been known for some time that serotonin can modulate pain perception and the function of some drugs is based on this,” Nevian stated.
They were successful in activating certain cellular receptors that are sensitive to serotonin, which enabled them to get the neurons to reestablish normal function. The result; reduced pain perception in the mice they were studying.
“What is new in our study now is that we were able to identify a specific subtype of serotonin receptor that reduced the perception of pain more efficiently. This is an important result, which might help to treat chronic pain more efficiently in the future.”
Part of their research also shed light on better understanding of how common antidepressants work. Some people who suffer from depression have a chemical imbalance that is well treated with tryciclic-based drugs. These drugs, which are sometimes also prescribed for treating chronic pain, had been thought to affect serotonin balance in the peripheral nervous system, including the spinal cord. This new research shows that these drugs also work to change the perception of pain in the brain.
So, researchers continue to advance the world’s understanding of the mechanisms of pain and how to modulate them. And that’s a good thing.
You can find the scientists’ newly published work in the journal, Neuron.