Inflammation often plays a large role in the pain experienced after a back or neck injury. Whether the injury is due to muscle strain or joint dysfunction, the body's first priority is to increase blood and nutrient flow to the affected area to promote healing. As a result, the surrounding tissues become red and swollen and can place pressure on nearby nerves.
These nerves begin to send electrical signals to each other, moving toward the central nervous system and ultimately reaching the brain. The brain then generates our perception of the pain. Because little is known about the mechanism of this signal transfer, existing pain medications e.g., ibuprofen, are non-specific and target the entire central nervous system. Stronger medications can have potentially serious side effects such as disorientation, drowsiness, or nausea.
Research at the University of Leeds in the UK conducted on rats is providing new insight into the pain caused by inflammation. Scientists have discovered two proteins-Calcium-activated chloride channel Ano1 and M-type potassium channel-that affect the way we perceive pain, and have encouraged further investigation into development of more specifically targeted drugs. Findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
It was discovered that a substance called bradykinin is released at sites of inflammation and manipulates the two proteins found at the signal reception terminals of surrounding nerve cells. When the nerve cells are stimulated by bradykinin, they begin to send electrical pain signals to the brain.
The role of the two proteins in relation to the inflammatory response was previously unknown. Because this reaction has been localized to the damaged peripheral neurons, new drugs can be developed that target the peripheral nervous system rather than the central nervous system. This can reduce the likelihood of severe side effects associated with current medications.
Research was funded through several grants, including from the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the National Basic Research Program.
Watch a video: Anti-Inflammatory Medications for Back Pain Relief Video
Journal of Clinical InvestigationJ Clin Invest. doi:10.1172/JCI41084