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Scientists from Duke University have pinpointed a small area of the brain responsible for eliminating the sensation of pain.
Previously, the scientists investigated which types of neurons are activated by general anesthesia, medication to keep someone from feeling pain during surgery. They found that general anesthesia activates a specific group of neurons in the central amygdala, a part of the brain known to house negative emotions and responses. They called those neurons CeAga neurons.
For the new study, the researchers subjected mice to mild pain to determine which brain regions are activated by it. The team successfully located the pain-activated parts of the brain. They also discovered that the CeAga neurons seemed to inhibit some of these activated parts, which led them to further investigate what happens when CeAga neurons are stimulated.
When the CeAga neurons were stimulated, the mice instantaneously stopped the self-caring behaviors they usually exhibit when experiencing discomfort, like face-wiping or paw-licking. In contrast, when the scientists decreased the activity of the CeAga neurons, the mice displayed behavior showing intense pain.
According to the scientists, the CeAga neurons in the amygdala work like a switch that could either suppress or exacerbate pain, and although the test was done on mice, one of the senior scientists believes that the human amygdala would produce the same response.
The team now wants to focus on looking for drugs that can safely stimulate and target only the CeAga neurons. They believe such drugs could potentially be used to develop new painkillers.