AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: pain

A New Way to View Pain

Often times when we discuss injuries we have sustained, indelible memories of vivid childhood accidents will rush to the surface of our thoughts perhaps even causing minor physical discomfort in the body part related to the accident. For some of us, when certain graphic images of wounds are shown, we will begin to experience a tingling sensation in those areas of our own bodies. For others, remembering how they broke a bone can seem anticlimactic. So from these observations, the question arises: why do we each remember pain the way that we do? 

In an article regarding mothers’ progressive memory of childbirth, the renowned online mental health resource Psych Central disclosed their groundbreaking research, which suggested a strong correlation between memory of childbirth and how many children these women ultimately had. About 50% of the mothers rated their childbirth as less painful than they did initially. While this data fails to suggest that the majority of women forget the intensity of their labor pains, it shows that a significant amount do. A potential explanation for this habit is that there is a positive correlation between being able to forget the pains of childbirth, and how many children one of the subjects had. This implies that being able to forget specific pains can be useful if the potential gain is more worthwhile than temporary pain. 

However, on the other end of the spectrum, remembering pain can be used to prevent the acquisition of future injuries in the same way. Discovery Magazine released an article about how memories are linked with pain through a protein called PKMzeta. It goes into the synapses between neurons, and strengthens bonds. This creates more connections for vivid memories to arise. The PKMzeta protein forms new connections in the spine after painful experiences, the same way it does when we are forming new memories. Thusly, our pain is a sign of new knowledge.


Arthritic Pain

A Painful Death for Lobsters?

The Swiss government has just passed a law that is illegal to boil a live lobster. The government of Switzerland believes that lobsters can feel pain.  Dr. Richard Elwood says, “there should be a more humane approach with lobsters.”  Dr. Elwood says that crustaceans, like lobsters, guarded their wounded areas. They also avoided areas were they would be shocked and live crabs crawled off of a hot barbecue grill. These are some of the main pieces of evidence that support Dr. Elwood’s theory. Dr. Elwood believes that these responses are the crustacean equivalent to expressing being in pain.

Dr. Ayers disagrees with the notion that lobsters can fell pain. He believes they lack the brain anatomy need to feel pain. Dr. Micheal Tlusty, a lobster biologist, says although lobsters do not have the brain anatomy that we associate with pain there is no way to be certain because  crustacean brains are so different from the human brain.  Even though a lobster will continue to twitch after loosing a limb, there is no way to be certain if it is out of discomfort or a natural reflex.

According to the Swiss government says electrocution, by Crustastun, is the preferred option


Using CRISPR to Prevent Chronic Pain & Inflammation


Researchers at the University of Utah have recently figured out a way to use CRISPR gene-editing techniques to reduce chronic pain and inflammation.

Normally, inflammation around damaged tissue signals various cells to produce molecules that destroy the damaged tissue. However, this can quickly devolve into chronic pain when the tissue destruction does not stop.

The researchers have found a way to use CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) to relieve and prevent chronic pain. Unlike most popular CRISPR techniques, theirs does not involve altering the gene sequences– it instead relies upon epigenetics, and modifying the expression of the genes in the cytokine receptors in inflammatory areas, to prevent cells from producing the molecules that destroy tissue.

The treatment is delivered through a virus, which is injected into the inflammatory site. It is more potentially therapeutic than current treatments for chronic pain, in that it actually prevents tissue destruction and future pain, rather than just relieving present pain. The method is approximately ten years away from being used to treat human patients.

OUCH! : Why some people may be more sensitive to pain than others.

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Have you ever noticed that some people are more “sensitive” to pain than others? Many may wonder if a person’s sensitivity pain could be simply psychological or if there is a true genetic disposition to be more prone to pain. New research suggests that it IS a biological disposition that causes people to feel more pain than others!

In the study, researchers asked 116 perfectly healthy people to rate the pain they felt when a small area of their skin was heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. After a few days of testing the subjects were placed in MRI machines. The findings of the MRIs, to the surprise of the researchers did indeed show a link between a persons sensitivity to pain and the thickness of a persons brain cortex, an area previously linked to attention control and introspection.  What researchers discovered was that the thinner the cortex of these areas, the more sensitive people were to painful stimuli.

According to Nichole Emerson, a graduate student at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, “Subjects with higher pain intensity ratings had less gray matter in brain regions that contribute to internal thoughts and control of attention”.

These findings can not only explain the cause of pain, but also may lead to breakthrough in how doctors in the near and distant future treat patients suffering from chronic pain.

The areas identified in the new study have been previously associated with resting or daydreaming; often referred to as “default mode”. This may explain why people with less gray matter area are more sensitive to pain. Default mode activity may compete with the brain activity that generates an experience of pain. In simpler terms, People who spend more time daydreaming may be less sensitive to pain.

In addition to the grey matter of the brain, researchers also associated pain with the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). The PPC also plays an important role in how people maintain attention. People who can best keep their attention focused may also be best at keeping pain under control.





The Difference Between Itching and Pain

A new scientific breakthrough has led researchers to conclude that the feelings of itching and pain are relayed to the brain by different nerve cells. It was previously thought sensory nerve cells on the skin perceived both itching and pain. However, recent debate over this subject prompted a group of scientists at Johns Hopkins University to get to the bottom of it. In their experiments the scientists observed the reactions of mice to certain stimuli under different conditions. In the first experiment, the scientists isolated a type of nerve cell called MrgA3 by coating it with a glowing protein. They then exposed the mice to both pain and itch inducing stimuli, and found that MrgA3 sent a signal for both conditions. In another experiment, the researchers purposefully killed the MrgA3 cells so that they could observe how the mice responded to the same stimuli without them. They found that the mice acted in a similar way, albeit a stronger itching sensation was required to garner reactions similar in magnitude. This proved that there are other types of sensory nerve cells that are able to sense and relay the feeling of itchiness. In a final experiment, the scientists made it so that the MrgA3 cells were the only ones able to respond to a specific type of painful stimuli. After exposing the mice to the specific type of pain and to an itchy sensation, they found that in both cases the mice itched in response. This proved that MrgA3 nerve cells interpret both itchiness and pain as itchiness. This could potentially be very important to people who develop a chronic itch due to certain medications, or people with a phantom itch. Now that scientists know that only certain sensory nerve cells send the signal of itchiness to the brain, they may be able to shut them down when a patient has developed a chronic or phantom itch. Perhaps they will even come up with a way to stop the itch caused by wool sweaters, so during the next holiday season you won’t constantly be scratching when your mom forces you to wear one.


Math Sucks!

Many people, including myself, hate, or have a strong disliking for math. Math, as I see it, is the study of just a bunch of random numbers and symbols, thrown together, that mean virtually nothing. It is intangible. How much worse can it get? Often times, when I “do” math, I ask myself: how is this going to benefit me in the future? The answer is: it won’t! According to a recent study, all math has in store for me, and other math haters out there, is pain. So all of those long, seemingly endless hours of doing math, have just caused suffering. This is just wonderful.

At The University of Chicago, a team of researchers, including Ian Lyons, discovered that worrying about math can activate regions of the brain, associated with physical pain. People who experience high levels of anxiety, or anxiety at all, when expecting something math related task, sustain increased activity in regions of the brain connected with physical pain. The higher the individuals’ anxiety is, the greater the brain activity is.

The research was done on 14 individuals, who experience math anxiety, according to a survey that was completed. The questions, on the survey, asked about their feelings when encountering anything math related, and measured their anxiety based on their answers. Additional testing concluded that the individual chosen, were not generally anxious people. Their elevated levels of anxiety were a product of math.

After completing the survey, the test subjects were tested in an fMRI machine, while faced with math related tasks. Some of the tasks included: solving equations, in addition to completing word problems.The fMRI scans showed that the anxiety of anticipating math, activated a reaction, in the brain, similar to physical pain. The worse the anxiety is, the more active the brain becomes. The region of the brain that is responsible for this is the posterior insula.

Mothers: Avoid Drugs for Pain so Your Baby is Sane

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While pregnant or in labor, women experience amounts of pain that most men couldn’t dream of. They have to put up with this pain somehow…so according to a recent article, over the last decade, there has been a rise in use of prescription pain killers that has spread to maternity wards in the US. Unfortunately, because these painkillers are opiate-based, there has also been a rapid increase in the number of pregnant women addicted to opiates and also the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has estimated that about one baby every hour is born with opiate withdrawal symptoms, and about 13,500 per year. According to the study, this condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, results in seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, difficulty feeding, tremors and irritability in infants at birth. These infants must be hospitalized for up to many weeks while doctors ween them of their opium dependence with smaller doses of morphine or methadone.

The study, after looking at two databases consisting of “representative samples” from patients across the country, made two shocking discoveries. Over the period from 2000-2009, the number of pregnant women using opiate pain killers increased to five times as much, while the number of babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome tripled at the same rate.

Not only is it an awful thing for these infants to be born addicted to opiates, but it also takes “a tremendous amount of nursing care” and time to cure these babies, according to Dr. Mark Hudak of the University of Florida College of Medicine. In the study, infants averaged about 16 days in the hospital. It takes them this long to be initially “cuddled,” placed in a dark room, then given tapered doses of methadone or morphine until the baby is weened. However, Hudak also states that “[morphine and methadone] are easy to overdose babies with” and that “there have been deaths” in this treatment.

According to the article, doctors agree that the best approach to deal with this problem is to cure women of their addictions before they are pregnant and prescribe them little or no opiate painkillers.

The Problem With Pain Killers

Photo Credit: Flickr user ragesoss

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I get injured… a lot.  As a sufferer of everything from neck and shoulder to hip pain I found a new study to be quite encouraging.  A study that was published in The Annals of Internal Medicineproves that exercise and chiropractic care are more effective in treating neck pain that pain killers.  Although exercise is more difficult and chiropractic care more time consuming than taking a pill for pain its is clear that both are better for your body, and your pain level.

Dr. Gert Bronfor who is the author of the study works as a research professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota got 272 people to participate in his study.  He took those people and split them into three groups, the first group went to chiropractors about 15 times in the three month span of the study for sessions lasting approximately 20 minutes.  The second group went to two physical therapy meetings and got a list of exercises to do at home (5-10 reps up to eight times a day).  The final group was told to take common painkillers, and if a doctor said it was necessary stronger narcotics and muscle relaxants.  At the end of the three month study 57% of people who visited the chiropractors and 48% of people who did the exercises reported feeling at least a 75% improvement while only 33% of people in the medicated group reported a 75% reduction in pain.

The study doesn’t end there Dr.Bronfor checked back in a year later and found that 53% of subjects who had chiropractic care, and about the same amount who did exercises, reported a 75% improvement in neck pain.  Only 38% of those who had been taking pain medicine reported feeling 75% better a year later, and most of the participants who had begun to use the pain killers had continued to use them and had increased the dosage and the frequency that they took the pain killers.  This alone lead to the participants having to deal with problems, as the side effects of the pain killers can cause a slew of issues all their own.  So now that you’ve read about the study next time you have a neck ache will you call the chiropractor or reach for that bottle of painkillers?

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