Pain, numbness and other sensory complaints are some of the most common complaints in Diabetes. These sensations – called diabetic neuropathy – are caused by damaged nerves. So far we believed that the damage is due to the high blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
Diabetic neuropathy is a very unpleasant and dangerous condition. Unfortunately the treatment is difficult and not always successful.
A new study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, highlighted a new angle. Not the peripheral nerves but the brain was the target of the researchers.
The researchers of the McGill University focused on one specific region in the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the anterior cingular cortex (ACC)
The anterior cingular cortex plays a central role in chronic pain. The researchers found a way to decrease the activity in this particular part of the brain. Thus the pain was reduced. The activity was reduced by blocking hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels of nerves in the ACC.
So far researchers focused rather on the damaged nerves in the extremities. Targeting the brain instead is a totally new approach.
“We were able to show that reducing hyperexcitability of the ACC by blocking the HCN channels had analgesic effects – basically the feelings of pain were dramatically decreased. Our study has revealed one important mechanism linking chronic pain to abnormal activity of the ACC and it provides a cellular and molecular explanation for the overstimulation of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. This gives us new perspectives on therapeutic strategies that could target the HCN channels to help relieve chronic pain,” says Dr. Philippe Séguéla, senior author of the study.