Study Shines Light on Mechanism of Neuropathic Pain

Study Shines Light on Mechanism of Neuropathic Pain

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Neuropathic pain is perhaps the most difficult type of pain to treat because science doesn’t fully understand its mechanism. Research has shown that neuropathic pain is the result of some sort of nerve damage. But why damaged nerves continue to send pain signals is not clear. A new study published in The Scientist may shed some light on the issue.

Study data seems to indicate that the body’s own immune cells may actually begin to attack nerves that were damaged in some other way. Such findings are not all that surprising given what we know of autoimmune diseases. As much as it is designed to protect as, the immune system can just as easily turn on us. That may be the case with neuropathic pain.

What Researchers Found

Researchers based their study on their knowledge of something known as perineuronal nets (PNNs). These physical structures present as coatings that protect neurons. Science has long suspected that PNNs are in some way related to neuropathic pain. They just haven’t figured out what the connection might be. Their experiments in mice may have cleared things up.

Without getting into all the details, the researchers simulated injuries in the mice and then observed what happened to PNNs. It turns out that certain cells within the immune system can inadvertently go after damaged nerves. When that happens, the PNNs surrounding those nerves can also be attacked.

Researchers observed that as the mice PNNs were gradually stripped away, the animals were more likely to show signs of chronic pain. This and other observations led them to conclude that the nerves with fewer PNNs were sending more constant signals that the brain interprets as pain.

Preventing an Immune Response

Though the research is preliminary in nature, it does offer a bit of insight into the immune system and its response to damaged nerves. It would appear as though the body must identify damaged nerves as foreign bodies. And as such, it seeks to get rid of them. Should future research support the findings of this most recent study, science could begin working on a way to prevent an immune response that would otherwise lead to neuropathic pain.

The pain specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, TX explain that neuropathic pain is a common complaint among diabetes sufferers. Patients are highly likely to experience stabbing pains in their feet and hands. Even pain medication doesn’t necessarily manage things well.

Lone Star doctors might recommend spinal cord stimulation for some neuropathic pain sufferers. This particular treatment offers a measure of relief by interrupting pain signals being sent to the brain. It seems to be affective. But if science can figure out a way to prevent the immune response behind neuropathic pain, spinal cord stimulation could become a thing of the past.

The Amazing, Confusing Human Body

It is strange to think that a person’s immune system would attack tissue that is supposed to be there. Human biology is amazing on the one hand and quite confusing on the other. This particular issue is a classic example. Thanks to some curious researchers though, it appears we know a little bit more about why neuropathic pain exists. But now we have another why to answer: why does a person’s immune system attack damaged nerves?

Perhaps those answers will come in the future. For now, patients suffering from neuropathic pain can only avail themselves of approved treatments. That could mean pain medication or even spinal cord stimulation. For someone with chronic neuropathic pain, anything that works is welcome. That is just how uncomfortable neuropathic pain often is.

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