UA Study: Relief of Pain is a Reward

The Pain Research Group at the UA College of Medicine-Tucson studies the underlying causes of acute and chronic pain to promote the discovery of new targets for drug development with the ultimate goal of improved pain management.

By Jean Spinelli,      Arizona Health Sciences Center |             November 26, 2012

Scientists have learned a lot about pain, but this has not led to the discovery of many new medications to help the millions of people whose lives are affected by chronic pain. In an effort to improve pain management, Frank Porreca and his research group from the department of pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Tucson have been exploring new preclinical measures that may better reflect features of the human experience of pain and that can be used to find new therapies.

Relief of pain is rewarding, according to Porreca and his colleagues. They have demonstrated that treatments that relieve the unpleasant feeling of pain also activate reward circuits and reinforce behaviors that result in relief of pain.

Their study, “Pain relief produces negative reinforcement through activation of mesolimbic reward/valuation circuitry,” is reported in the Nov. 26 Early Edition issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was supported in part by grant # R01NS066958 from the National Institutes of Health. “Determining how we feel, including knowing if we are in pain, depends on a brain neural representation of information that is gathered by a multitude of sensors that monitor the body and its tissues for local temperature, blood flow, blood pressure, heart rate, pH, carbon dioxide level and other states,” said Porreca.

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