Companionship can reduce nerve-related pain

Published on October 16, 2012 at 7:59 AM · No Comments

Companionship has the potential to reduce pain linked to nerve damage, according to a new study.

Mice that were paired with a cage-mate showed lower pain responses and fewer signs of inflammation in their nervous system after undergoing surgery that affected their nerves than did isolated mice, suggesting that the social contact had both behavioral and physiological influences.

The social contact lowered the pain response and signs of inflammation even in animals that had experienced stress prior to the nerve injury.

These mice experienced a specific kind of nerve-related pain called allodynia, which is a withdrawal response to a stimulus that normally would not elicit a response - in this case, a light touch to the paw.

"If they were alone and had stress, the animals had increased inflammation and allodynia behavior," said Adam Hinzey, a graduate student in neuroscience at Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "If the mice had a social partner, both allodynia and inflammation were reduced."

More than 20 million Americans experience the nerve pain known as peripheral neuropathy as a consequence of diabetes or other disorders as well as trauma, including spinal cord injury. Few reliable treatments are available for this persistent pain.

"A better understanding of social interaction's beneficial effects could lead to new therapies for this type of pain," Hinzey said.

Hinzey described the research during a press conference Monday (10/15) in New Orleans at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

In the study, researchers paired one group of mice with a single cage-mate for one week while other mice were kept socially isolated. For three days during this week, some mice from each group were exposed to brief stress while others remain nonstressed.

Researchers then performed a nerve surgery producing sensations that mimic neuropathic pain on one group of mice and a sham procedure that didn't involve the nerves on a control group.

After determining a baseline response to a light touch to their paws, researchers tested all groups of mice behaviorally for a week after the surgery. Mice that had lived with a social partner, regardless of stress level, required a higher level of force before they showed a withdrawal response compared to isolated mice that were increasingly responsive to a lighter touch.

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