Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have found a neuropeptide that appears to play a role in the regulation of pain sensations in the body. These findings offer a new direction for research and new hope for pain control. The findings are published in the January issue of the Journal of Physiology.
The researchers’ findings indicate that hypocretin neurons from the hypothalamus portion of the brain establish direct connections with the spinal cord. Hypocretin is a substance that changes the electrical activity of nerve cells in the dorsal or top area of the spinal cord that are involved in pain perception. The hypothalamus is generally considered to be an area of the brain that regulates eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, body temperature, chemical balances, heart rate, hormones, sex and emotions.
“We found that most cells in a region of the spinal cord responsible for detecting pain show a significant physiological response to the peptide hypocretin-2,” said van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery at Yale School of Medicine and co-author of the study.
It was van den Pol’s laboratory, along with colleagues at Stanford University and the Scripps Institute, which first described this new hypothalamic neurotransmitter in 1998.
Van den Pol said the new findings show the neurotransmitter may also modulate pain sensation.
He said more work is needed to establish the specific role of hypocretin in altering sensory input that includes pain and temperature sensation. In the future, new drugs related to hypocretin may prove useful in the treatment and reduction of pain.