Researchers Discover On/Off Switch for Inflammatory Pain


The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, the research unit of New York State health care provider Northwell Health, may have found a way to control neurons that drive inflammation.

In a preclinical study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists presented a new approach to treating diseases that involve inflammation and pain, like arthritis. 

Arthritis is a disease that affects the joints and eventually leads to degeneration. At present, there is no cure for it, but there are interventions applied to manage inflammation, stiffness and pain. 

Other symptoms include joint locking, tenderness, warmth, and loss of range of motion on the specific joint. There are several types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and infectious arthritis. 

The Feinstein Institutes study, led by Dr. Sangeeta S. Chavan, Ph.D., professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine, and associated professor Huan Yang Ph.D., combines optogenetics, neuronal-specific deletion, and preclinical models of inflammatory illnesses while monitoring inflammation and neuropathic pain. 

The results showed that nociceptor HMGB1 is necessary for a neuroinflammatory response and that treatments might be created by targeting it directly, not just for arthritis but for different diseases involving inflammation and pain. 

“Using light or genetic tools, we can turn off and on the switch that controls inflammation in the body. This preclinical bioelectronic medicine research is paving the way for a variety of new treatment options for people living with serious, chronic health conditions,” said Dr. Chavan. 

These preclinical findings are somehow related to a 2020 research that Dr. Chavan also published in PNAS. On this occasion, Dr. Chavan and his team discovered a small cluster of neurons in the brain responsible for controlling the body’s immune response and cytokine release mechanisms (which result in inflammation). 

Source: BioSpace

The neurons found in the brainstem dorsal motor nucleus (DMS) of the vagus nerve can reportedly be controlled through selective stimulation. Using bioelectronic devices, the scientists activated the neurons and microcuff electrodes to record activity, where they found this capability. 

Studies are not conclusive yet, but it clearly shows that targeting HMGB1 may be the key to finding a new therapeutic approach to addressing many illnesses. 

“After 30 years of researchers studying how to turn off the immune system, we recently sought a way to turn it on. Thanks to this pivot in research, Drs. Yang and Chavan discovered that nerves release a molecule to produce inflammation in the body, which could lead to a new strategy to develop pharmaceutical and bioelectronic therapies,” commented Kevin J. Tracey, M.D., president and chief executive of the Feinstein Institutes.


BioSpace source: