A group of Portuguese researchers from IBMC and FMUP at the University of Porto has found the reason why patients with chronic pain often suffer from impaired short -term memory. The study, to be published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows how persistent pain disrupts the flow of information between two brain regions crucial to retain temporary memories.
Chronic pain suffers often complain of short term memory's problems. The neural mechanisms why this occurs are however not understood. Recent studies in animals showed that pain can disturb several cognitive processes as well as change the brain pathways for how we think and feel. Of the many cognitive disturbances observed the most important include problems in spatial memory, recognition memory, attention and even emotional and non-emotional decisions.
In the new article the team of researchers from the University of Porto led by Vasco Gallardo describes in a rat model of neuropathic pain how a neuronal circuit crucial for the processing of short-term memory is affected by pain. The circuit, established between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, is essential for encoding and retaining temporary memories on spatial information. The researchers used multi-electrodes implanted in the brain to record neuronal activity during a behaviour dependent of spatial memory - the animals were trained in a maze where they had to choose between two alternative paths and then asked to recall their chosen path.