Richard Ambron from Columbia University in New York City and his colleagues have discovered an ‘on/off’ switch for chronic pain. According to Ambron, ‘What happens in a chronic pain state is that the neurons become hyper-excitable. That is, rather than remaining rather dormant and unresponsive, they begin to fire in response to very, very mild stimuli. So we were interested in what is it that causes this hyper-excitability.’ The cause appears to be the malfunctioning of an enzyme called protein kinase G, or PKG. In instances of chronic pain when PKG is ‘on,’ neurons continue to send pain signals even after the injury that caused the pain is healed. Although medications and cures exist for chronic pain, they are neither effective nor pleasant in some cases. The discovery of this switch gives hope for an improved treatment.
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