Scientists find brain's pain center

One part of the brain is particularly active when we feel pain, according to researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K., a finding, they say, could help doctors detect pain in people who can't communicate well, such as small children or patients with dementia.

For the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, 17 participants had capsaicin cream spread on their legs--that's the compound in chili peppers that causes a burning sensation. The researchers then placed a hot or cold water bottle against each person's skin to increase or decrease the pain.

While this was happening, the scientists scanned the participants’ brains. They also asked them to rate their pain levels. The scans indicated that when people reported feeling the most pain, an area deep in their brains called the dorsal posterior insula was particularly active. That, according to the scientists, suggests that this region of the brain acts as a kind of pain meter.

Next, the researchers hope to be able to determine if it's possible to “turn off” this brain region in people with intractable pain.

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