Ion channel responsible for pain identified by UB neuroscientists

December 17, 2010, University at Buffalo

University at Buffalo neuroscience researchers conducting basic research on ion channels have demonstrated a process that could have a profound therapeutic impact on pain.

Targeting these ion channels pharmacologically would offer effective pain relief without generating the side effects of typical painkilling drugs, according to their paper, published in a recent issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"Pain is the most common symptom of injuries and diseases, and pain remains the primary reason a person visits the doctor," says Arin Bhattacharjee, PhD, UB assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the School of Medicine and Biological Sciences, director of the Program in Neuroscience and senior author on the paper.

"Fifty million Americans suffer from chronic pain, costing between $100-200 billion a year in medical expenses, lost wages and other costs," says Bhattacharjee. "The need to understand pain mechanisms remains paramount for human health and for society."

Inflammatory pain can result from penetration wounds, burns, extreme cold, fractures, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, excessive stretching, infections and vasoconstriction.

"There are efficacious treatments for inflammatory pain, such as and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs," says Bhattacharjee, "but the adverse side effects associated with these drugs limit their long-term use and compromise patient compliance. As a result, there is a great need to understand the involved in inflammatory pain to create less toxic, less addictive, analgesic drugs."

Pain-responsive , known as nociceptors, are electrical cells that normally respond to pain stimuli. Nociceptors then relay information to the , indicating the location, nature and intensity of the ensuing pain. Nociceptors are sensitized during inflammation, their ionic properties are altered and their firing characteristics changes. This sensitization causes a state of "hyperalgesia," or increased sensitivity to pain.

"Merely touching the inflamed area can be very painful," notes Bhattacharjee. "The ionic mechanisms that are chiefly responsible for this inflammatory-mediated change in nociceptive firing had not been clearly identified.

"We were able to demonstrate that a certain class of potassium channels is removed from the surface of nociceptive cells during inflammatory signaling. The removal of these is linked to the hypersensitivity of these nerve cells. We demonstrated that reducing the expression of these channels by gene interference techniques produced a similar nociceptor hyperexcitability. "

Bhattacharjee says his team plans to extend their ion channel "trafficking" studies to in vivo models, using peptide inhibitors to try to prevent the removal of the potassium channels from the surface of nociceptors during inflammation.

"We expect to show that maintaining these channels at the surface during inflammation will be effective for pain relief. Successful completion of our studies will provide the impetus for direct human clinical trials.
Megan O. Nuwer, PhD, and Kelly E. Picchione, PhD, both in the neuroscience program, are co-authors on the paper.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently

January 16, 2018
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: "No, that's hilarious. [...] It's like ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Burnerjack
not rated yet Dec 17, 2010
In theory, it sounds like a path to pain relief without the addictive side effects associated with narcotic therapies.
resinoth
not rated yet Dec 18, 2010
acupuncture needs this kind of grounding

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.