Much like humans, insects can face chronic pain after an injury has healed, Australian research has shown. The findings could lead to help for people dealing with chronic pain. "We knew that insects could sense pain," said Greg Neely of the University of Sydney, per Cosmos, "but what we didn’t know is that an injury could lead to long-lasting hypersensitivity to normally non-painful stimuli in a similar way to human patients' experiences." Neuropathic pain begins after damage to the nervous system; humans usually experience that as a burning or shooting pain. The scientists damaged a nerve in one leg of a fruit fly. Once it healed, the researchers saw that the other legs had become hypersensitive. They then genetically dissected how that works.
The goal of the team's research is to develop non-opioid solutions for pain management. It found that the pain message goes to the ventral nerve cord, the fly’s version of a person's spinal cord. "In this nerve cord are inhibitory neurons that act like a ‘gate’ to allow or block pain perception based on the context," Neely said. The key discovery, he said, is that the key event that causes neuropathic pain in flies, mice and probably humans, is the loss of the central nervous system's pain brakes. "We need to get the brakes back to live a comfortable and non-painful existence," Neely said. The study was published in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed journal. (Read more scientific study stories.)