Targeting chronic painWith the support of the Austrian Science Fund FWF, the neurophysiologist Ruth Drdla-Schutting is investigating the role astrocytes play in the genesis of chronic pain. With the help of innovative gene technology (DREADDs), scientists are tailoring treatment specifically to these cells that are the most numerous found in the central nervous system.
Pain is an important protection system of the human body. But when it becomes chronic, as it frequently does, it no longer fulfils a meaningful function. Patients develop a so-called pain memory, making the pain an illness in its own right and disconnecting it from its original cause. Given the great number of sufferers and the complexity of the issue, the research community pays close attention to this phenomenon. Genetic and brain research seem to be well on the way towards understanding what causes chronic pain. Ruth Drdla-Schutting from the Medical University of Vienna is one of the researchers who are obtaining new answers to hitherto unresolved questions.
The neurophysiologist studies processes at cellular level in the central nervous system, which is where pain becomes manifest. In more concrete terms, Drdla-Schutting investigates the role of astrocytes, the most frequent type of cell in the central nervous system.
A concrete mechanism triggering pain memory occurs at the point of contact of nerve cells in the spinal cord. This mechanism is called synaptic long-term potentiation (LTP). "For a long time, researchers concentrated only on nerve cells when investigating LTP", explains Drdla-Schutting. "We know, however, that astrocytes also have a role to play in synaptic transmission." Recently, researchers have been able to demonstrate that astrocytes play a role in LTP at the hippocampus – a region of the brain responsible for learning and memory. "To date, the results are subject to controversial discussions in the scientific community", says Drdla-Schutting and points out that research in this field is still in its infancy. According to the scientist, there is even less certainty about what role astrocytes play in the spinal cord when it comes to the induction of pain. "This is mainly due to the fact that we lack the tools to selectively block or activate these cells."
Targeting the root cause of pain
But the scientists are on the right track. – In animal experiments, they have been able to reverse some forms of chronic pain by administering high doses of "cell blockers". Ruth Drdla-Schutting is now working on addressing astrocytes specifically, or, in other words, on blocking only this type of cell in cases of chronic pain, which she believes will produce better results with fewer side effects. In preparation for such targeted experiments, a Schrödinger Fellowship awarded by the FWF took the scientist to the Paris Descartes University, where she worked until recently on an innovative chemogenetic method in the team of the neuro-scientist Cendra Agulhon.
In Paris, Ruth Drdla-Schutting established a method for using astrocyte-specific DREADDs ("Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs") in the spinal cord. She does this by using genetically designed receptors which sit on the surface of cells where they act as sensors and transmit signals to the inside of the cell. These engineered receptors work like their natural counterparts, with the one difference that they can no longer be activated by substances the body produces itself. Instead, they are specifically activated by the administration of a certain compound (Clozapine-N-Oxide). DREADDs can be applied to various cell types, including astrocytes – which explains why they are of interest in this particular case. As a next step, Drdla-Schutting is now studying the impact on pain memory of activating astrocytes by means of DREADDs. Initial investigations are under way at the Center for Brain Research at the Medical University of Vienna.
Hoping for innovative therapies
Although DREADDs are currently employed only in fundamental research, researchers hold high hopes for this new technology, as the results of pre-clinical studies in cellular and animal experiments are very promising. Scientists hope to be able to use these receptors not only for chronic pain, but also for treating diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson's or diabetes.
FWF Austrian Science Fund
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria's central funding organization for basic research.
The purpose of the FWF is to support the ongoing development of Austrian science and basic research at a high international level. In this way, the FWF makes a significant contribution to cultural development, to the advancement of our knowledge-based society, and thus to the creation of value and wealth in Austria.
Assoc. Prof. Ruth Drdla-Schutting; PhD
Center for Brain Research
Medical University of Vienna
Spitalgasse 4, A-1090 Vienna
T +43 / 1 / 40160-34126
Austrian Science Fund FWF:
Haus der Forschung
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 67 40 - 8111
PR&D – Public Relations for Research and Education
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44
This release was published on openPR.
Permanent link to this press release:
Please set a link in the press area of your homepage to this press release on openPR. openPR disclaims liability for any content contained in this release.
You can edit or delete your press release Targeting chronic pain here
News-ID: 333302 • Views: 605
More Releases from Austrian Science Fund FWF
Human rights: Extrajudicial complaint mechanisms particularily suitable
Reconciling corporate interests with human rights is a difficult endeavour. A research project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF demonstrates that non-judicial complaint mechanisms may be an adequate avenue for conflict resolution. For a number of years, companies have been facing increased pressure when it comes to human rights violations. Numerous multinational corporations such as Shell Oil, Texaco or Unocal were accused of such violations, resulting in years of
Body language in the classroom
Body language plays a crucial role, particularly in communication between teachers and students. This is the outcome of a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF which focused on the hidden elements of teaching. An encouraging smile, a sceptical frown, a negating shake of the head: body language is very diverse and effective. With the discovery of mirror neurons, brain researchers corroborated its impact by demonstrating how these nerve cells
Art history – In the eye of the beholder
What viewers of a work of art see and feel is informed by their socio-cultural background and by how familiar they are with the image. Art historians have now verified this theory with the help of methods that are usually used in psychology. This project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. The influence culture has on an individual's experience and behaviour is a long-standing object of research
News from Wittgenstein's world of ideas
In a project supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, the analysis of hitherto unpublished lecture notes from a student and friend of Wittgenstein's has resulted in an important publication providing new insights into central issues of the philosophers' work. The pieces are slowly coming together to form a picture. – Decades after the death of one of the 20th century's most influential philosophers, scientists are still discovering hitherto unpublished manuscripts
More Releases for Austria
Creative Austria meets creative Russia
Euroforum: communicatin ready for the next lap Vienna. On 22nd of October 2009 the advertising association Vienna invites again to the annual Euroforum: communication event, platform for European communication, guaranteeing an interesting mix of “connecting businesses and communications”. The Event takes place in Studio 44, Vienna. Focus point Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sotschi) The main goal of the Euroforum is to promote and establish business relations and synergies between