A team led by Dr Bhavna Kulkarni of the Human Pain Research Group in the School of Medicine’s Division of Medicine and Neurosciences at the University of Manchester has captured the first images of how the brain processes arthritis pain, using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Bhavna said: “We knew that experimentally-induced pain is processed in at least two brain networks; the ‘medial pain system’ processing the emotional aspects such as unpleasantness while the ‘lateral pain system’ processes intensity, location and duration. Although arthritic and experimental pain each activated both the medial and lateral pain systems, arthritic pain prompted increased activity in the parts of the medial system concerned with processing fear, emotions and aversive conditioning.

This suggests that arthritic pain has more emotional salience. The increased activity in the areas associated with aversive conditioning, reward and fear, which are less commonly activated during experimental pain, suggests they might be processing fear of further injury and disability associated with the arthritic pain.”

Supervisor Professor Anthony Jones said: “It seems that studying experimental pain alone doesn’t provide a complete picture, and that PET scanning patients experiencing different types of clinical pain can reveal subtle changes in brain activity.

“Importantly, this study has also demonstrated the importance of the medial pain system during arthritic pain, suggesting it would be a good target for both new analgesics and non-pharmacological interventions. The body’s own pain-killing chemicals could even be modulated, to target pain in the areas we have identified.”

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Manchester