University of Calgary and Stanford University scientists find the key to ending chronic pain is found in the brain

by Kelly Johnston, Cumming School of Medicine

Dr. Gerald Zamponi, PhD, and a team with the Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) in Calgary, Alberta and researchers at Stanford University, California, have been investigating which brain circuits are changed by injury, to develop targeted therapies to reset the brain to stop chronic pain. Their study, “A Neuronal Circuit for Activating Descending Modulation of Neuropathic Pain,” was published Sept. 9 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“It’s a terrible situation for many people living with chronic pain, because there is often very little that works for them to control their pain,” says Zamponi, senior associate dean (research) and a professor in the departments of physiology and pharmacology and cell biology and anatomy at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) at the University of Calgary.

Mapping the path inside the brain

are able to map a pathway showing which neurons are communicating with each
other to process a pain signal and then communicate this information all the
way back through the spine where painful stimuli are first processed.

Much of the research for chronic pain has been focused on the spinal cord and targeting nerve fibres where the pain response is processed. Treatment with current pain relief medications is often ineffective and can have serious side effects. This new understanding of the pain signaling circuit may allow scientists to develop new drug therapies and targeted brain stimulation treatments to address chronic nerve pain, and hopefully provide relief for pain sufferers.

This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and by the Canada-Israel Health Research Initiative, jointly funded by the CIHR, the Israel Science Foundation, the International Development Research Centre, and the Azrieli Foundation.

Led by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute,
Brain and Mental Health is one of six research strategies guiding the
University of Calgary in its Eyes High strategic direction. The strategy provides
a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university and
positions researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health
in our community.