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Scientists Discover Off-Switch for Pain in the Brain

Inquisitr | November 30, 2014

Researchers at St. Louis University have made a promising breakthrough in the field of pain management that could help millions of patients who suffer with chronic pain.

Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the United States, reports Medical News Today, affecting more people than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined.

According to a study released in the medical journal, Brain, the research team, led by professor of pharmacological and physiological sciences Daniela Salvemini, has found a way to block a pain pathway in the brain of rodents using a receptor called A3. The discovery could mean relief from pain without the adverse side effects of opiate pain killers.

“The most successful pharmacological approaches for the treatment of chronic pain rely on engagement of endogenous circuits involving opioid, adrenergic and calcium channel mechanisms,” Professor Salvemini said.

Unfortunately, these medications can cause extreme side effects such as muscle pain, anxiety, irritability, and addiction. Discontinuing use of these drugs, however, can lead to inadequate pain relief and affect the patient’s quality of life.

A drug called Adenosine has been found effective for pain management in past studies, but the medication activated several pathways other than those needed to relieve pain, causing side effects. It was unclear which pathway causes the pain relieving effect of Adenosine, so Salvemine and her team conducted the study to find out.

Using more than 300 rodent models of chronic pain caused by nerve damage, the research team found that activating the A3 receptor with a Adenosine molecule stopped or reversed chronic pain in the rodents. The A3 receptor could also be activated by other small-molecule medication created by the National Institutes of Health.

Using the adenosine molecule to activate the A3 receptor did not alter the pain threshold in the rodents or trigger the reward center of the brain the way that opioid and other pain reliving medications do – the reasons long-term use of such drugs medications leads to drug tolerance, abuse, and addiction.

“It has long been appreciated that harnessing the potent pain-killing effects of adenosine could provide a breakthrough step towards an effective treatment for chronic pain,” Salvemini said of the results. “Our findings suggest that this goal may be achieved by focusing future work on the A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR) pathway, in particular, as its activation provides robust pain reduction across several types of pain.”

Adenosine is already in clinical trials for treatment of cancer and inflammation, and the team noted that it has caused no serious side effects so far.

The Inquisitr reported earlier this year that the FDA had approved a medication, Targiniq ER — an opiate combined with the drug that reduces pain killer overdose — which could help reduce painkiller addiction in those who suffer chronic pain. But if the use of Adenosine is successful in blocking neural receptors, it could provide an even more effective method of pain relief that could greatly reduce abuse and addiction to painkillers.

Read more at the Inquisitr