Manchester, England- A study published today in The Journal of Pain, suggests that the amount of pain a person can tolerate depends on the number of opiate receptors in their brain.
Current pain medications are mostly opioid-based but patients usually end up building tolerance against them – they stop having great effect on the consumer and the pain comes back.
Opioid receptors are proteins in the brain and are triggered by a family of endogenous peptides which are released by neurons when the body feels pain. These receptors react to the body’s natural painkilling system – composed of opiates and endorphins – as well as to medicinal drugs.
During the study, laser heat was applied to the skin of 17 patients with arthritis and 9 healthy ones. Their brain was also monitored using PET (positron emission tomography) scans to observe the level of pain each patient tolerated.
After analyzing the scans, researchers found that people who tolerated higher amounts of pain had more opioid receptors in their brains.
“As far as we are aware, this is the first time that these changes have been associated with increased resilience to pain and shown to be adaptive. Although the mechanisms of these adaptive changes are unknown, if we can understand how we can enhance them, we may find ways of naturally increasing resilience to pain without the side effects associated with many pain killing drugs” said Dr. Christopher Brown, a researcher at the University of Manchester, as reported by the Universitie’s site.