Scientists Discover Neural Mechanism—and Possible Fix—for Chronic Pain

Study in mice reveals how brain circuitry goes haywire after peripheral nerve damage.

 reports: Chronic, aching pain after an injury or operation may be all in your head. Researchers now think they’ve figured out exactly how brain wiring goes haywire to cause persistent pain—and how to fix it.

In mice with peripheral nerve damage and chronic pain from a leg surgery, a broken circuit in a pain-processing region of mammalian brains caused hyperactive pain signals that persisted for more than a month. Specifically, the peripheral nerve damage seemed to deactivate a type of interconnected brain cells, called somatostatin (SOM) interneurons, which normally dampen pain signals. Without the restraints, neurons that fire off pain signals—cortical pyramidal neurons—went wild, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience.

But the circuitry could be repaired, the researchers found. Just by manually activating those pain-stifling SOM interneurons, the researchers could shut down the rodents’ chronic pain and keep the system working properly—preventing centralized, chronic pain from ever developing.

“Our findings suggest that manipulating interneuron activity after peripheral nerve injury could be an important avenue for the prevention of pyramidal neuron over-excitation and the transition from acute postoperative pain to chronic centralized pain,” the authors, led by neuroscientist Guang Yang at New York University School of Medicine, conclude. Yang and his colleagues envision future drugs or therapies, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, to tweak the activity of the interneurons to prevent malfunctioning pain signaling.

The study is just in mice, so it needs repeating and verifying before the line of research can move forward. That said, the work is backed by and in-line with a series of human and animal studies on chronic pain. Read the rest of this entry »


Traffic Lights Installed in Prague’s Narrowest Street


Apple’s Titan Car Project to Challenge Tesla

WSJ-appl-car

Apple Has 100s Working on Design of a Minivan Like Vehicle 

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Ramsey report: Apple Inc. has revolutionized music and phones. Now it is aiming at a much bigger target: automobiles.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has several hundred employees working secretly toward creating an Apple-branded electric vehicle, according to people familiar with the matter. The project, code-named “Titan,” initially is working on the design of a vehicle that resembles a minivan, one of the people said.

“There are products that we’re working on that no one knows about. That haven’t been rumored about yet.”

— Chief Executive Tim Cook, to Charlie Rose, in September

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple ultimately could decide not to proceed with a car. In addition, many technologies used in an electric car, such as advanced batteries and in-car electronics, could be useful to other Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.

Apple often investigates technologies and potential products, going as far as building multiple prototypes for some things that it won’t ever sell. Any car would take several years to complete and obtain safety certifications.

But the size of the project team and the senior people involved indicate that the company is serious, these people said. Apple executives have flown to Austria to meet with contract manufacturers for high-end cars including the Magna Steyr unit of Canadian auto supplier Magna International Inc. A Magna spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple’s industrial design team is staffed with several people who have experience at European auto makers. Last year, Apple hired Marc Newson, a famous industrial designer and close friend of the company’s design guru, Jony Ive. In the past, Mr. Newson created a concept car for Ford Motor Co.

Apple hopes to put its stamp on the electric vehicle market in the same way it did the smartphone with its iPhone, said a person familiar with its work. Even though Apple defied expectations of slowing growth with a 30% rise in revenue in the quarter ended December, the company is under constant scrutiny of where its next breakthrough product will come from.

Last year, Apple hired Marc Newson, a well-known industrial designer and close friend of the company’s design guru, Jony Ive. In the past, Mr. Newson has created a concept car for Ford. Photo: Getty Images

Last year, Apple hired Marc Newson, a well-known industrial designer and close friend of the company’s design guru, Jony Ive. In the past, Mr. Newson has created a concept car for Ford. Photo: Getty Images

Earlier this week, Mr. Cook said at an investor conference that he does not believe that companies naturally start to slow as their revenue grows. He said this was “dogma” and that Apple didn’t believe in putting limits on what it was capable of.

A side benefit of the project, according to one of the people, is that it has persuaded many Apple employees who were thinking of leaving the company to stay and work on an exciting new endeavor without the pressure of churning new products every year.

Other Silicon Valley giants are looking at autos. Google Inc. has been working on a self-driving car for years. The head of Google’s autonomous vehicle project said last year that the company aims to forge a partnership with auto makers to build a self-driving car within the next few years. A self-driving car is not part of Apple’s current plan, one of the people familiar with the project said. Read the rest of this entry »