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Shutting Certain Brain Cells Down Could Stop Pain Completely

Researchers have discovered that pain could be stopped by shutting down certain cells in the brain.

Pain is one of the many things we wish we did not have to endure as human beings. It's quite unpleasant and no one likes having it - well, there are certain circumstances...

Per Scientific American's Karen Hopkin, Stanford University pain expert Grégory Scherrer was part of a research team who located a set of neurons which seem to encode the hurtful sensation that obviously comes along with pain.

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“Pain is both a sensory and emotional experience," Scherrer explains.

“Much of the research so far has focused on the sensory aspect of pain perception. And in particular how cells in our nerves are able to detect the stimuli that we perceive as painful.”

Scherrer and his colleagues first identified the brain cells which are most active when an animal experiences pain by using a miniature microscope - developed by Mark Schnitzer, who does neuroscience and applied physics at the University - to observe the brains of live mice.

When the rodents were poked with a pin or exposed to mild heat or cold, cells in a subregion of the amygdalas (the section of the brain responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory) lit up.

“This microscope is small and light enough that it can be worn on the head of an adult mouse as the animal behaves in a natural manner," Scherrer continued.

“So this indicated that there’s a particular type of cell in a given region of the brain that seemed to specifically encode the percept of pain.”

At that point, it was still unclear as to whether the cells were responsible for interpreting the sensation or simply detecting it. So the research team proceeded to shut the cells down before carrying out the test again.

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This time around, the mice paid no attention to the sensations and did not even care to avoid the areas where they had experienced the discomfort, as they normally would.

“So when we did that, what we observed is that while animals were still withdrawing from the stimulus, indicating that they could detect it, so the sensation aspect of pain was intact, they didn’t seem to care about the stimulus.

The results of this bit of research could prove a breakthrough when it comes to the treatment of pain. The researchers made sure to note that subjects would still carry the physical part of the pain. The negative perception and discomfort, though, would be greatly diminished.

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