Dopamine may help sustain chronic pain

Dopamine, a key brain chemical when it comes to thinking, memory and reward responses, may also play a role in sustaining chronic pain, even in the absence of injury. That's the conclusion of a new study at the University of Texas at Dallas and published in the _Journal of Neuroscience. _

By studying the pain signals between the brain and the spinal cord in mice, the researchers determined that they could successfully reduce chronic pain by removing a specific group of dopamine-containing cells, called A11.

The scientists explained that with normal, acute reactions, pain signals travel like electricity from the site of the injury to the spinal cord. It passes them as chemical or electrical pulses that are then relayed to brain cells which distribute them throughout the brain. In people with chronic pain, however, nerve cells continue to send pain signals to the brain, even in the absence of injury.

When the researchers used a toxin that affected the cells containing dopamine, they found that while acute pain signals were still normal, the mice stopped feeling chronic pain.

The team believes that its study increases the understanding of what causes chronic pain and how it's sustained, and hope that additional research can lead to more effective treatments.

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