In order to study pain memory, the researchers recreated a surgical procedure in vivo, which allowed them to stimulate pain fibers under controlled conditions. Despite deep anesthesia, the researchers were able to reserve long-term synaptic potentiation in the spinal cord and found a memory trace for pain. When high doses of IV opioids were administered over the course of an hour, the researchers completely resolved the potentiation and thus deleted the memory trace for pain.
Based on these results, a new project, sponsored by the Vienna Fund for Science, Research and Technology, is exploring whether this discovery can be used to treat patients.
“If our approach turns out to be effective under clinical conditions, this would herald a paradigm shift in pain therapy,” wrote the authors, led by Jürgen Sandkühler, MD, at the Center for Brain Research at the Medical University of Vienna. “It would mean moving away from the temporary, purely symptom-based pain therapy to a long-term removal of the cause of pain based on pain mechanisms using opioids.”