Researchers at the University of North Carolina have deciphered brain mechanisms related to differences in pain perception in men and women. Through experiments in rodents, they were able to determine the role of dopamine in this process and show the activity in different parts of the brain.
Specifically, the scientists discovered how neurons use dopamine to regulate pain differently in male and female mice. According to a releaseIn the future, researchers will try to discover how this neural pathway can handle emotional behaviors associated with chronic pain.
Considering that some specific neurons release dopamine to regulate responses to pain, the scientists found that in certain parts of the brain dopamine helps male mice simply not feel as much pain, while in females the same substance allows to focus attention on another aspect while experiencing pain, thereby reducing its impact.
The new scientific work, recently published in the journal Neuron, could help specialists to design better pain management strategies, both in daily life and in concrete and specific situations, such as chronic diseases or pathologies that make it essential to learn to tolerate pain better.
The central role of dopamine
Now, how does the neuronal process that makes the differences in the perception of pain in men and women work specifically? The scientists started from a known fact: dopamine neurons, the hormone of pleasure and happiness, also play a vital role in regulating pain.
In the new experiments in rodents, the researchers focused on a neural pathway that acts in the midbrain region. This area of the brain is involved in behavioral adaptation: in other words, it determines how animals learn to respond to their environment.
Dopamine-producing neurons act in this region of the brain together with a brain structure called the nucleus of the stria bed (BNST), together forming a neural pathway. It was precisely in this area where the researchers verified the differences between male and female mice.
According to Waylin Yu, lead author of the study, “We found that activating this pathway directly reduced pain sensitivity in male mice, but at the same time made female mice move more, especially in the presence of something that caught their attention, thus reducing their perception of pain, “he said. It is worth remembering that the role of dopamine in terms of attention had also been explored in previous studies.
In this way, the difference would be given in the way of perceiving or handling pain. While males quickly reduce the painful experience of the action of dopamine, females do it in a more subtle way: shifting the focus of attention to other stimuli.
Although new studies are needed to confirm these processes in humans, scientists believe that the activation of specific neural projections in the previously mentioned brain regions may reduce pain acute and persistent inflammatory. At the same time, dopamine can improve the blocking of painful stimuli, thus counteracting severe pain.
Periaqueductal gray/dorsal raphe dopamine neurons contribute to sex differences in pain-related behaviors. Waylin Yu et al. Neuron (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2021.03.001
Dopamine neurons located in the midbrain of a mouse. They would have a central role in the differences in the perception of pain in men and women. Credit: Kash Lab.
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