Washington: Scientists have found the area in brain which is responsible for making us feel pain.
Researchers at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain used a new brain imaging technique to look at people experiencing pain over many hours. Activity in only one brain area, the dorsal posterior insula, reflected the participants' ratings of how much the pain hurt.
The results could help detect pain in people with limited communication abilities, such as those in a coma, small children and dementia patients.
Professor Irene Tracey, University of Oxford , whose team made the discovery, said that pain is a complex, multidimensional experience, which causes activity in many brain regions involved with things like attention, feeling emotions such as fear, locating where the pain is, and so on. But the dorsal posterior insula seemed to be specific to the actual 'hurt level' of pain itself.
The research team tracked brain activity in 17 healthy volunteers who had a cream containing capsaicin (the active ingredient in chillies) applied onto their right leg, causing a burning sensation. The volunteers indicated how much this burning sensation hurt.
Once the pain sensation began to fade, the researchers 'rekindled' the sensation by putting a hot water bottle where the cream was applied. A few minutes later, they provided pain relief by switching to a cooling water bottle. The volunteers' ratings of how much the pain hurt accordingly went up and then down.
The team hopes that changing activity in the dorsal posterior insula will help to treat pain where other methods have failed.
The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.