Crucial element identified in the nerve processes underlying chronic pain. A new way to defeat it and to arrive at the development of innovative drugs. The discovery made by researchers of the Neuropharmacology Laboratory ofIrccs Neuromed of Pozzilli (Isernia), studying animal models. Scientists have identified some perineuronal networks, extracellular structures composed of proteins and carbohydrates that form a kind of coating around neurons. These networks, with their ability to ‘wrap’ nerve cells, have a stabilizing function of the synapses, the points through which neurons communicate with each other. In this way they play a key role, for example, in the fixation of memories and in the brain’s ability to be more or less ‘plastic’, that is, capable of adapting.
Neuromed research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, has shown that in chronic pain the perineuronal networks of specific brain areas are thicker. In other words, by increasing their density they fix memories, in this case painful memories that continue to be active. “The increase in density of the perineuronal networks that we observed in the somatosensory cortex and in the medial prefrontal cortex – explains Giada Masciofirst author of the scientific work – shows us that chronic pain is associated with a kind of stabilization of the nerve pathways in those brain areas“Virtually a fixed circuit, with nerve connections that continue to generate painful sensations even when the cause that generated them has disappeared.
“We then caused a pharmacological degradation of the perineuronal networks – continues Mascio – in this way we restore plasticity to the nervous system, we ‘unlock’ it, we could say. The result we have obtained is that the painful stimulus disappears. Of course we are only at the beginning and more research will be needed, but we think this is a promising path towards the development of innovative medicines. “
“In addition to the value of this study in seeking a solution to a serious problem such as chronic pain,” he comments Ferdinando Nicoletti, head of the Neuromed Neuropharmacology Unit – the results have another aspect that I consider important: perineuronal networks can be dynamic structures, they are not fixed forever. Means that the brain maintains, or can be pushed to regain, a plasticity that makes it capable of adapting to new situations even in adulthoodcontrary to the previous hypotheses that saw him ‘blocked’ after the period of childhood and adolescence “.
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