Worldwide, chronic pain is one of the main contributors to disability, while this type of pain does not respond well to current treatments. A new study shows a first step in uncovering the signatures of brain activity that underlie our perception of pain.
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An important research goal is to understand how pain is represented in the brain and how to modulate brain activity to alleviate the suffering associated with chronic pain. Finding new treatments – effective and non-addictive – for chronic pain would also help stem the opioid crisis.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers have recorded pain data in the brains of people with chronic pain disorders caused by stroke or amputation. The study published in nature neuroscientistWe analyzed changes in brain activity in two regions where scientists believe pain responses occur: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). ” Functional MRI studies show that these brain regions light up during acute pain experiences. We wanted to know if these regions also play a role in the brain’s processing of chronic pain “, said Prasad Shirvalkar, doctor of medicine.
Modify brain activity to relieve pain?
Only four people took part in the study, fitted with electrodes targeting the CCA and COF. They answered various questions about the pain they felt several times a day, while the researchers triggered a brain recording that provided a snapshot of activity in the CCA and COF. The use of these activities, combined with machine learning analytics, predicted participants’ chronic pain status.
Researchers hope that identifying such a pain signature will lead to the development of new therapies capable of altering brain activity to relieve chronic pain.