(ĐTĐ) - Researchers working on mice have found an enzyme in the brain that appears to make pain last after nerve injury and they hope to use it as a new target to treat chronic pain in people.
In a paper published in Science magazine Friday, the scientists in Canada and South Korea said they managed to alleviate pain after blocking the enzyme.
"It provides us with basic understanding of the brain mechanism for chronic pain," lead author Min Zhuo, a physiology professor at the University of Toronto, wrote in an email.
"It not only provides a new possibility to design new pain medicine, but it also helps us to understand why many drugs fail to control chronic pain."
Although painkillers have existed for long periods of time, management of chronic pain in hospitals, and for conditions like cancer and end-of-life palliative care, is far from adequate in many places.
Zhuo and colleagues found raised levels of the enzyme "protein kinase M zeta" in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex of the injured mice.
To confirm the enzyme's function, they knocked out a gene in another group of mice which they believed was responsible for triggering the production of the enzyme.
They subsequently found that those mice experienced less or no chronic pain at all after nerve injury.
"The knockout mice without this enzyme may experience less or no chronic pain," Zhuo wrote.
Zhuo and his team hope their work will help in the design of a new class of drugs that blocks this enzyme.
"Many painkillers do not work for chronic pain, especially neuropathic pain. There is great need for new drugs that can effectively control chronic pain," Zhuo wrote.