Using surgical implants inside the brain, scientists have recorded for the first time electrical patterns that occur when a person is feeling chronic pain, a new study in Nature Neuroscience concludes.
The researchers used the devices on four patients who had felt endless nerve pain for more than a year. The devices recorded several times a day, which could pave “the way for implanted devices to one day predict pain signals or even short-circuit them,” The New York Times reported.
The study says the pain “was associated with electrical fluctuations in the orbitofrontal cortex, an area involved in emotion regulation, self-evaluation and decision making,” The Times reported. “The research suggests that such patterns of brain activity could serve as biomarkers to guide diagnosis and treatment for millions of people with shooting or burning chronic pain linked to a damaged nervous system.”
Ajay Wasan, MD, and a pain specialist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who was not involved in the study praised it to the Times.
“The study really advances a whole generation of research that has shown that the functioning of the brain is really important to processing and perceiving pain,” he said.
Chronic pain is defined as persistent or recurring and lasting more than three months. The CDC says about 20% of Americans experience it. It has been linked with depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, suicide, and substance use.
Yet, the study’s authors note, “Pain severity is often measured through subjective report, while objective biomarkers that may guide diagnosis and treatment are lacking.”
Nature Neuroscience: “First-in-human prediction of chronic pain state using intracranial neural biomarkers”
The New York Times: “Scientists Find Brain Signals of Chronic Pain”
CDC: “Chronic Pain Among Adults – United States, 2019-2021”
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