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Nature publication on pain research
Date:1/22/2008

Our bodies sense painful stimuli through certain receptors located in the skin, in joints and many internal organs. Specialized nerve fibers relay these signals coming from the periphery to the brain, where pain becomes conscious. The spinal cord is placed between these structures as kind of a pain filter, says Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer, Professor at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich and at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Zurich.

That filter assures that pain is not evoked by everyday stimuli like light touch. This is accomplished by inhibitory nerve cells located in the spinal dorsal horn that release the messenger molecule -amino butyric acid (GABA) at specialized contacts between neighboring nerve cells, so-called synapses. GABA then acti-vates chloride channels on those neighboring cells which relay the pain signals to the brain.

Activating pain inhibiting factors

In patients with chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or after nerve damage, for example following injuries, the pain inhibiting action of GABA becomes severely compromised. Pain signals are then conducted to the brain nearly unfiltered. Benzodiazepines, such as the sedative drug Valium, which enhance the action of GABA, alleviate chronic pain when they are applied directly to the spinal cord via an injection into the spinal canal. In practice, how-ever, such injections can only be done in very selected cases. More often benzodiazepines are administered systemically, such as with tablets. In this instance, the benzodiazepines not only act in the spinal cord but also in the brain where they can have undesired, sometimes deleterious, effects on pain patients. The drugs cause sedation, impair memory, and can even lead to addiction. In addition, during prolonged treatment their effect often fades with time. Classic benzodiazepines should therefore be avoided in chronic pain patients.'/>"/>

Contact: Professor Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer
hansze@ethz.ch
41-044-635-5912
ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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