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In experiments with mice, researchers at Duke University found that sensory neurons in the head and face are directly linked to one of the brain's main emotional signaling hubs. Sensory neurons in other parts of the body are only indirectly linked to this hub.
"Usually doctors focus on treating the sensation of pain, but this shows we really need to treat the emotional aspects of pain as well," said study senior author Fan Wang, a professor of neurobiology and cell biology.
"There has been this observation in human studies that pain in the head and face seems to activate the emotional system more extensively," Wang said in a university news release. "But the underlying mechanisms remained unclear."
Study co-author Wolfgang Liedtke said this is the first biological explanation for why this type of pain can be so much more emotionally taxing than others.
"This will open the door toward not only a more profound understanding of chronic head and face pain, but also toward translating this insight into treatments that will benefit people," said Liedtke, a professor of neurology.
The study was published online Nov. 13 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Nov. 13, 2017