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New Study Finds Method To Inhibit Pain-Sensitive Neurons

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New Study Finds Method To Inhibit Pain-Sensitive Neurons

A team consisting of researchers based in Berkeley, Bordeaux and Munich has discovered a method to command the inhibition of pain-sensitive neurons. In order to achieve this, researchers targeted a chemical sensor.

With the use of a chemical sensor that acts as a photosensitive switch, the team of chemists from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, along with their colleagues from Berkeley and Bordeaux, reveal the possibility to suppress the pain-sensitive neurons. This method could represent a new tool for researching the neurobiology of pain.

The new method created by the research team from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, led by professor Dirk Trauner involves the use of a chemical composite called QAQ. This composite has two functional parts made of a quaternary ammonium joined by a double nitrogen bond (N=N). This connection can be influenced by the action of direct light. Using light with a distinct wavelength changes the conformation of the molecule, whilst exposing it to light of a different wavelength reverses the effect.

Neuron Network

Neuron Network

One of the two functional parts of the QAQ molecule is similar to an active analog of lidocaine. Lidocaine is used by dentists as a local anesthetic due to its inhibiting action on specific nerves found in the skin. Lidocaine and the QAQ molecule target neuroreceptors found on the outer membrane of neurons. These neuroreceptors allow electrically charged ions to pass through, thus leading to the transmission of electrical impulses. Scientists have managed to use the ability of the QAQ molecule to gradually infiltrate through the ion channels that form the neuroreceptors in order to reach the target area, situated on the inner face of the ion channels.

Additionally, the end of the QAQ molecule that is similar to the active analog of lidocaine can only bind to the respective site if the molecule is in an extended conformation. The effect of exposing it to light with a wavelength of 500 nm inhibits the reaction of pain-sensitive neurons, whilst exposing it to light of a wavelength of 380 nm stops the inhibiting action. This effect was tested and proven on an animal test subject.

The idea of using light impulses in order to control molecular systems such as neuroreceptors is being studied by professor Trauner’s research team for several years. Scientists say that the current study will allow further research, especially in the area of neurobiology, regarding pain. Being in the first stages of development, Timm Fehrentz says that a therapeutic application of the new discovery is not yet available. One of the main problems is that the monochromatic light used for the research cannot penetrate human skin, and thus cannot activate the QAQ molecule. In order to solve this problem, scientists will conduct further research and will try to use an alternative, longer wavelength, red light. The red light can penetrate human skin more easily.