TECH

The Discovery Of 'Mini-Brains' Could Revolutionise Pain Treatment

Not sure how we feel about this.

10/04/2017 14:40 BST

According to science we should probably all be much smarter than we are, as neuroscientists have discovered that we all have thousands of ‘mini brains’ in our bodies, rather than just one lump of grey matter.

It has long been accepted that the human nervous system is split into two parts – the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system. 

It was originally believed that the peripheral nervous system was only useful for interpreting the environment around us, and then passing messages to the control centre in our heads, which could make the important decisions.

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But now neuroscientists from the University of Leeds, have found that far from just being gatekeepers of sensory signals, the peripheral system has a more important and complex role.

Instead the thousands of ganglia, or nerve bundles throughout our bodies, should be viewed as a volume switch that is capable of making an autonomous decision about how much information to feedback to the brain.

Neuroscientist Professor Nikita Gamper, said: “We found the peripheral nervous system has the ability to alter the information sent to the brain, rather than blindly passing everything on to the central nervous system.

“We don’t yet know how the system works, but the machinery is definitely in place to allow the peripheral system to interpret and modify the tactile information perceived by the brain in terms of interpreting pain, warmth or the solidity of objects.” 

The study, which has taken place over five years looking at rodents, found that nerve cells within the ganglia can exchange information between each other with the help of a signaling molecule called GABA, a process that was previously believed to be restricted to the central nervous system.

Not only do these findings mean we should stop giving our brain all the credit, but they also could have implications for pain-relief drugs.

Current pain relief drugs target the central nervous system and have side effects that include addiction and tolerance issues but the new research could see the development of non-addictive and non-drowsy drugs that target the peripheral nervous system.

They could also potentially be given in much higher dosages, increasing effectiveness.

The timescale for developing such drugs would be approximately 15-20 years.