Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Tracing Pain

Greater understanding of the connections between areas of the brain involved in pain and movement

18 October 2018

Tracing Pain

The symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases sometimes offer clues to how the brain works. Tremors and shakes common in Parkinson’s disease can be traced back to faults in the subthalamic nucleus (STN), involved in controlling muscle movement. But sufferers often complain of pain too – strange sensations that the STN alone can't account for. In this 3D scan of a rat brain, researchers search for links between the STN and pain. A chemical tracer (pink) injected into a different area, the parabrachial nucleus (PBN, red blob) spreads outwards towards the STN (white), hinting at communication between these regions. The PBN and another connected area – the superior colliculus (upper pink blob) – shape our experience of pain – our nociception. Their joined-up 'wiring' might explain why deep brain stimulation of the STN relieves pain as well as some physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and reveals clues about how the brain responds to the outside world.

Written by John Ankers

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