Altering regions in the brain that control emotions may help end chronic pain, according to data from a Northwestern Medicine study.
With chronic pain disabling millions in the United States every year, the medical community at large has continued its efforts to alleviate pain in patients with this debilitating condition.
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Published in Nature Neuroscience, the report outlines the effectiveness of a new treatment strategy designed to end chronic pain in patients.
The therapy combines two FDA-approved drugs: a Parkinson’s drug, L-dopa, and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Pairing the medications targets brain circuits in the nucleus accumbens. The researchers found that this approach eliminates chronic pain behavior when administered to rodents with the condition.
“It was surprising to us that chronic pain actually rewires the part of the brain controlling whether you feel happy or sad,” study author D. James Surmeier, PhD, chair of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement. “By understanding what was causing these changes, we were able to design a corrective therapy that worked remarkably well in the models.”
A drop in dopamine levels immediately after an injury typically triggers chronic pain behavior. Raising dopamine levels reverses this change, the researchers learned.
“The question now is whether it will work in humans,” Dr Surmeier said.
The researchers are pursuing a clinical trial to find out.
Wenjie R, Centeno MV, Berger S, et al. The indirect pathway of the nucleus accumbens shell amplifies neuropathic pain. Nat. Neurosci. 2015. doi: 10.1038/nn.4199.