| Analgesics

Music and Sound As Analgesics

But Don’t Put It Up to 11

As anyone who’s had a root canal knows, music can help take your mind off a painful procedure. But why? Researchers publishing their findings in the journal of Science “discovered that analgesic effects of sound depended on a low (5-decibel) signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) relative to ambient noise in mice.” A pathway from the auditory cortex to the thalamus was identified. While listening to music, neuronal activity at the receiving end of the pathway was reduced, which may reduce pain processing in the thalamus. Whether the mice heard “pleasant” classical music, an “unpleasant” arrangement of the same piece, or white noise didn’t seem to make a difference. However, only lower volumes produced the desired effect of numbing pain.

Via tracing, imaging, and recording mice, researchers found that “low-SNR sounds inhibited glutamatergic inputs from the auditory cortex (ACxGlu) to the thalamic posterior (PO) and ventral posterior (VP) nuclei. Optogenetic or chemogenetic inhibition of the ACxGlu→PO and ACxGlu→VP circuits mimicked the low-SNR sound–induced analgesia in inflamed hindpaws and forepaws, respectively.” The study concluded, "the corticothalamic circuits underlying sound-promoted analgesia by deciphering the role of the auditory system in pain processing."


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