Pain - When it hurts

December 04, 2020
Almost one in five people in Germany suffers from chronic pain. Yet, we lack a complete understanding of where the complaints come from, which sometimes seems to come out of nowhere. It does seem clear however, that expectations play a role. Various scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig are investigating how these expectations work and how they can be influenced. They’re asking questions such as, “How can two stimuli of identical strength be perceived, at different times, as differing in terms of pain.”

Pain - When it hurts

Almost one in five people in Germany suffers from chronic pain. Yet, we lack a complete understanding of where the complaints come from, which sometimes seems to come out of nowhere. It does seem clear however, that expectations play a role. Various scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig are investigating how these expectations work and how they can be influenced. They’re asking questions such as, “How can two stimuli of identical strength be perceived, at different times, as differing in terms of pain.”

To understand pain, you have to understand the spinal cord. This part of the central nervous system is considered the first switch point on the way to the brain. In the search for possible pain therapies, the spinal cord is thus becoming more and more the focus of attention. However, before this can be achieved, the cord must be better understood, especially in the case of injuries. Up to now, tests to check the progress of therapy have measured how mobile or touch-sensitive a person affected by a spinal cord injury is. The problem is that these methods are quite imprecise. So-called biomarkers could provide a more precise tool. Nikolaus Weiskopf explains how this works, how these biomarkers can advance research on spinal cord lesions, and how the nervous system can become unbalanced. He is head of the Neurophysics department and director at the MPI CBS.

"Biomarkers show us the condition of nerve fibers after an accident"

To understand pain, you have to understand the spinal cord. This part of the central nervous system is considered the first switch point on the way to the brain. In the search for possible pain therapies, the spinal cord is thus becoming more and more the focus of attention. However, before this can be achieved, the cord must be better understood, especially in the case of injuries. Up to now, tests to check the progress of therapy have measured how mobile or touch-sensitive a person affected by a spinal cord injury is. The problem is that these methods are quite imprecise. So-called biomarkers could provide a more precise tool. Nikolaus Weiskopf explains how this works, how these biomarkers can advance research on spinal cord lesions, and how the nervous system can become unbalanced. He is head of the Neurophysics department and director at the MPI CBS.

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