Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brain Molecule May Be Key to Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia is an often misunderstood and mis-diagnosed condition that can cause severe, debilitating pain and disability for sufferers. Until now, a definite cause of fibromyalgia has been a mystery, although it has been linked to trauma, stress, depression and co-morbidity with other diseases.

But now researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have discovered a link between fibromyalgia and a specific brain molecule. The molecule is glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter. Researchers found that when glutamate levels decreased, so did the severity of pain.

Previous studies have shown that fibromyalgia sufferers had increased activity in some brain regions, namely the insula. Neurons in these patients are more active in this part of the brain and researchers hypothesize that more activity among these neurons might be related to the level of glutamate in this region.

To gauge the linkage between pain and glutamate, the researchers used a non-invasive brain imaging techinique called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (H-MRS). H-MRS was performed once before and once following a four-week course of acupuncture or “sham” acupuncture.

Researchers used either acupuncture or sham acupuncture to reduce pain symptoms. The sham procedure involved using a sharp device to prick the skin in order to mimic real acupuncture sensations.

Following the four weeks of treatment, both clinical and experimental pain reported were reduced significantly. More importantly the reduction in both pain outcomes was linked with reductions in glutamate levels in the insula: patients with greater reductions in pain showed greater reductions in glutamate. This suggests that glutamate may play a role in this disease and that it could potentially be used as a biomarker of disease severity.

University of Michigan - Pain in fibromyalgia is linked to changes in brain molecule

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Jazzy Brain

If you've ever taken music lessons and practiced for hours just to be able to play the notes exactly as written on the sheet music in front of you, then you might wonder how it is that jazz musicians seem to be able to make up notes on the spot and yet still be withing the musical framework of the song. For those of us with minor talents, the sheet music is essential to staying on target. But jazz musicians play with the music, teasing new sounds into old standards.

It's all in the brain say researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Using a special keyboard inside an fMRI machine, researchers studied the brains of study participants as they played and improvised. In different exercises, musicians from the Peabody Institute music conservatory were asked to play both memorized pieces and then to improvise. When the jazz musicians were improvising, researchers found a slow down in activity in a region of the brain that is central to planning and self-censorship. The musicians turned down their inhibitions and turned up their creativity.

The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.

Read more on this interesting study at the Johns Hopkins website