Scientist will decode neuron messages to treat pain

September 1, 2016 - 06:25

A new Ph.D. project will try to decode the scrambled messages from damaged nerve cells and develop new treatments to combat neuropathic pain.

Sara Jager explains neuropathic pain at ScienceNordic’ Speakers Corner, during the FENS Forum for Neuroscience 2016, in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Video: Kristian H. Nielsen / Science Nordic)

We often associate pain with a physical injury that we can see, such as broken limbs or skin abrasions.

But there is another type of pain--neuropathic pain--that we experience when nerve cells, or neurons, are damaged.

Ph.D. student Sara B. Jager from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, Denmark, accepted ScienceNordic’s challenge to describe her studies in neuropathic pain in under three minutes.

“In my Ph.D. project we try to understand what the cells are saying. And when we can understand that, we hope to develop new drug treatments to help treat patients with neuropathic pain,” says Jager.

See how she did in the video above as part of ScienceNordic’ Speakers Corner, during the FENS Forum for Neuroscience 2016, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Pain that occurs for no reason

Neuropathic pain can occur without any apparent physical cause. Jager describes the condition using the example of a traffic accident in which someone has nerve damage after breaking their arm.

In my Ph.D. project we try to understand what the cells are saying. And when we can understand that, we hope to develop new drug treatments to help treat patients with neuropathic pain
Sara B. Jager, Aarhus University, Denmark

Sometime after the accident when the arm is completely healed a patient may still experience pain when there are no exterior signs of injury that could explain it.

So what is happening?

It could be due to the faulty messages sent between the damaged neuron and the surrounding, protective satellite glial cells, says Jager.

Satellite cells send wrong messages

“When the neuron was injured, it sent a message to the satellite glial cells. The neuron is saying ‘oh my god, I’m so hurt!’,” she says.

“The satellite glial cells get this message loud and clear. Then they process the signal, they think about it a little bit, and then they send a message back to the neuron,” says Jager.

Scientists don’t know what information is contained in this message, but they believe it is important in understanding neuropathic pain. So Jager is trying to decode them.

Mice experiments will isolate messages

Facts

FENS Forum for Neuroscience, 2016

This year Copenhagen hosted the FENS Forum for Neuroscience, 2016.

Science Nordic was there to film and report from the conference.

Head over to Speakers Corner to catch up with all our activities.

In mice experiments, Jager will detach the satellite cells from the neuron to isolate the messages.

“We should be able to tell the difference between the two types of cells. And that can tell us something about the message being sent,” says Jager.

Neropathic pain is currently treated with antidepressants or epilepsy medicine, but Jager hopes that the research will lead to better treatments.

“Antidepressants can restore a balance in the brain and it is the same unbalance that occurs after nerve damage. When we have neuropathic pain, the nerve cells change and create a chemical unbalance in the brain. But we don’t know for sure what happens,” she says.

One possible treatment could prevent the pain by inhibiting the satellite cells from sending messages, says Jager.

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Read the Danish version of this article on Videnskab.dk
 

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Translated by
Catherine Jex

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