Scientists identify how the body develops coping behaviours for sustained pain
Researchers from Harvard Medical School recently published a study in Nature on the internal signals associated in response to pain. They tested the defensive and coping behaviours of mice in response to touching a hot or cold surface. Some mice had specific neurons in their spine demolished so they could not use certain genes thought to be linked with pain responses. They found that two specific genes in the spinal neurons of mice were responsible for driving coping responses associated with sustained pain (i.e, licking of the painful area and learning to avoid touching a hot surface, called ‘conditioned aversion’). Interestingly, they found that using/not using these genes had no effect on the actual initial defensive reflexive response to pain (e.g, withdrawing the finger/foot quickly after touching the hot/cold surface).
What does this mean?
This means that the nerve signals responsible for coping mechanisms of sustained pain (e.g persistent licking and conditioned aversion) do not play a role in the reflexive response to the pain.
What's the impact of this?
The human body’s response to pain remains relatively poorly understood, so learning more about what’s happening internally could lead to significant improvements in pain relief medication.