The Role of Brain Chemicals in Maintaining Chronic Pain

A new study appearing in Journal of Neuroscience identifies the brain chemical dopamine as playing a key role in the experience of chronic pain. In research on mice, a team from University of Texas, Dallas, traced the path of pain signals between the brain and spinal cord and found that removing a group of dopamine-containing cells called A11 selectively reduced chronic pain without affecting the transmission of acute pain.

The research into the role of dopamine was prompted by prior investigations of other brain chemicals such as norepinephrine and serotonin. The team used a toxin that affects A11 neurons, and observed that chronic pain signals were disrupted, while acute pain signals were unaffected. The researchers noted that this work reveals a new role for dopamine in helping to maintain chronic pain states, and may illuminate new therapeutic targets for chronic pain management. In future work, the team hopes to gain a better understanding of how stress interacts with A11, and to learn more about the interaction between molecular mechanisms that promote chronic pain and dopamine. The journal abstract may be read here.

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