Joined: Dec. 2007
Denyse goes to Waterloo:
|Placebo effect caught in the act in spinal nerves |
The placebo effect is not only real; its ability to deaden pain has been pinpointed to cells in the spinal cord. That raises hopes for new ways of treating conditions such as chronic pain.
FMRI scanning has long been used to image the brain, but the part of the spinal cord that Eippert's team was interested in – the dorsal horn – is minuscule in comparison, and so is harder to image. It also swims around in cerebrospinal fluid, further complicating real-time measurement.
Meanwhile, the fMRI scanner witnessed the placebo effect. When skin treated with the "control" cream was heated, an area of the dorsal horn located on the left side of volunteers' lower necks lit up, suggesting increased neural activity there in response to pain. However, this signal disappeared in the "painkiller" trials.
Eippert's team didn't discover what caused this shift. He speculates that higher brain areas involved in buying into the bogus treatment trigger the release of endogenous opioids – chemicals our brain produces that work like opiates and may temper spinal cord activity.
Now that researchers know the neural hallmark of placebo pain relief, they could use it to develop treatments, cognitive or chemical, that take better advantage of belief, Eippert says.
Don't read that, Denyse. You know how reality makes you break out in a rash.