GREAT HOPE has been raised for a new way of treating pain, after scientists successfully 'silenced' the brain cells that interpret discomfort.

Exposing mice to unpleasant temperatures of skin pricks activates an area of their brain known as the amygdala, which processes emotions.

When cells in the amygdala of the rodents were blocked, the animals still produced pain signals but they were not interpreted by their brains.

This caused the rodents to move away from the source of pain but show no signs of distress, such as licking their wounds, scientists said.

'It's as if they don't care about the pain any more, even though, even though they can detect it,'' said lead author Professor Gregory Scherrer at Stanford University.

To investigate how the brain interprets pain, the researchers  genetically-engineered cells in the amygdala  of mice so they became fluorescent when active..

The scientists found these cells lit up when the mice  were exposed to heat or a small pin prick, New Scientists reported.

To silence these cells, the scientists genetically engineered them to express receptors for an unnamed dug that dampened their activity.

Brain circuits for pain tend to be similar between species, with these mechanisms likely also occurring in humans.

This gives the researchers hope their findings could lead to novel therapeutic strategies that minimise outgoing ongoing discomfort.

 ''We're hoping it's a new venue to treat pain, Professor Scherrer said. The findings were published in the  journal Science.

The discovery follows previous research that found damage to the amygdala reduces the sensation of pain.

However, it is important people and animals know to move away from the source of discomfort as it could cause damage.

Pain signals therefore still need to be produced, but not interpreted by the brain, the scientists warned.

Fifty-million  adults in the US, 20.4%  of adults suffer from chronic pain, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report defines chronic pain as occurring every day or most days for at least six months.

In the UK, 28 million adults - two-fifths of the population - are living with pain that has lasted at least three months, British Pain Society data revels. Common causes include headache, abdominal cramps, muscle strain and arthritis. [Daily Mail].


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