The association between anxiety and chronic pain is well known – and now researchers may be getting close to a biologic explanation and, perhaps more.
A team – led by Dr. Min Zhuo at the University of Toronto says it may have found the biological basis for this link between anxiety and chronic pain in the connections between neurons in a brain region known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) The results were shared at the 9th Annual Canadian Neuroscience Meeting on May 27th in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Simply put, pain that persists can become chronic because your neurons become more efficient at transmitting pain signals. The strengthening of connections between neurons through repeated use is called Long Term Potentiation, (LTP).
“This study provides the first synaptic mechanisms to explain the multiple functions of ACC neurons in pathological conditions such as chronic pain,” says Dr. Zhuo, who is the Canada Research Chair in Pain and Cognition.
Dr. Zhuo’s team also found a novel molecule, called NB001, which can specifically block neuronal pre-LTP, and has powerful analgesic, or pain-reducing, effects in animal models of chronic pain. Further investigation of the signaling pathways of pre- and post-LTP should reveal new drug targets and other therapies for treating pain and anxiety.
That caught the attention of Stanford University Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine, Dr. Beth Darnall, who wrote a book on chronic pain called “Less Pain, Fewer Pills”, published in 2014.
“While it appears that findings are not yet published, preliminary reports provide exciting evidence that helps clarify the long-known association between anxiety and chronic pain,” the pain psychologist told the National Pain Report.
Dr. Darnall agrees the results of this research will undoubtedly lead to further studies that refine therapeutic targets and the development of pharmacologic agents.
“Their results also underscore the importance of non-pharmacologic psycho-behavioral treatments for chronic pain and also for anxiety,” she added. “When people learn skills to decrease the physiological markers of anxiety or stress, they are simultaneously treating pain.”
Pain has both physical and emotional components. An anxiety disorder with chronic pain can be difficult to treat.