Pain

EXTRA INFORMATION

Understanding how pain is processed in the brain

WHAT WE KNOW

About Our Research

We study how pain is processed in the brain and how pain affects the sympathetic nervous system, the branch of the nervous system involved in the control of blood pressure. By inserting a fine needle (microelectrode) into a peripheral nerve we can record the spontaneous bursts of muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) that originate in the brain and cause constriction of blood vessels in muscle.

People who have high blood pressure (hypertension) have high levels of MSNA. We have shown that infusion of hypertonic saline (sterile salty water) into a muscle for an hour causes long-lasting pain which, in some individuals causes a sustained increase in MSNA and blood pressure and in other individuals a sustained decrease. We have also shown that these patterns are consistent over time, and cannot be explained by differences in resting levels of MSNA, blood pressure, heart rate, gender, anxiety levels or attitudes to pain.

Now, in a new NHMRC-funded grant, we are recording MSNA at the same time as performing fMRI of the brain to identify sites in the brain that lead to either an increase in MSNA and BP or to a decrease. This will improve our understanding of the complex physiological responses to pain and ultimately help us understand why some people with chronic pain develop high blood pressure.

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