Researchers at Northwestern Medicine report that chronic pain alters the nucleus accumbens, the area of our brains that plays a part in addiction, and dictates whether or not we feel happy or sad, ScienceDaily reports. The use of a Parkinson's drug, L-dopa, and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in conjunction, may restore the nucleus accumbens and reduce pain symptoms.
"It was surprising to us that chronic pain actually rewires the part of the brain controlling whether you feel happy or sad," said corresponding author D. James Surmeier, chair of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "By understanding what was causing these changes, we were able to design a corrective therapy that worked remarkably well in the models. The question now is whether it will work in humans."
In animal tests researchers observed that the combination of the two drugs reversed the changes to the nucleus accumbens and their pain symptoms ceased, according to the article. The majority of addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity, Parkinson’s medications raise dopamine levels as well.
"It is remarkable that by changing the activity of a single cell type in an emotional area of the brain, we can prevent the pain behavior," said corresponding author, Marco Martina, associate professor of physiology at Feinberg.
Human studies are required to determine if combining the two medications will have the same results as the rat tests. The findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.