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New Brain Discoveries in Peripheral Neuropathy

Today, 20 million people in the US have some form of peripheral neuropathy, according to the National Institutes of Health. What is peripheral neuropathy? It includes trauma, disease or damage to the peripheral nervous system — frequently, it causes weakness, numbness or spine pain. Peripheral neuropathy affects people of all ages and circumstances, and it frequently is found in people with diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious conditions.

How Peripheral Neuropathy Affects Nerves

The peripheral nervous system sends signals between the central nervous system in a vast network of nerve fibers. When a person has peripheral neuropathy, nerve fibers are damaged and have a heightened response to normal signals. They may also send incorrect signals altogether. This results in the brain receiving confusing messages, and frequently the whole body gets over-sensitized. This process is known as a “peripheral and central sensitization.”

The result of the nerve fibers sending incorrect signals to the brain is frequently pain and numbness. Signals are often felt symmetrically in both sides of the body. This can cause body and spine pain in patients.

New Scientific Discovery: ACC Blocking

Recently, a new discovery was announced about the part of the brain called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC). This is the region of the brain most consistently involved with pain processing.

senior professor, in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and colleagues discovered new information about a type of channel that controls the transmission of pain signals to the ACC. In recent tests, they found that blocking these channels reduced over-stimulation of the ACC and dramatically decreased feelings of pain.

"This gives us new perspectives on therapeutic strategies that could target the…channels to help relieve chronic pain,” says Prof. Séguéla

Researchers have also discovered that our emotional, psychological and cognitive factors can influence pain perception in neuropathic pain. The ACC is important for all of our cognitive functions linked to memory, feelings, and emotions. Patients with chronic pain frequently have problems focusing, using their memory, as well as frequently suffering from depression.

Prof. Séguéla explains, “our findings open new doors to research possible treatments of these debilitating symptoms that are linked to chronic pain”. This is exciting news for patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy, since new treatments involving ACC blocking may directly relate to alleviating their pain.

Research Suggests Endoplasmic Reticulum Drives Pain

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, identified a key mechanism in neuropathic pain. This is an exciting step toward better understanding conditions that cause nerve damage for millions today.

“A biological process called endoplasmic reticulum stress (ER stress) is a significant driver of neuropathic pain,” said lead researchers Bora Inceoglu of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Ahmed Bettaieb, Department of Nutrition. Research shows that neuropathic pain could be initiated by compounds that cause ER stress and possibly reversed by agents that block it.

The discovery provides new opportunities for drugs, or drug combinations to treat chronic pain. Eventually, this could benefit millions of patients with chronic pain from peripheral neuropathy trauma, diabetes, shingles, multiple sclerosis and other conditions that cause nerve damage.

More details here.