Washington, Sep 24: Naked mole-rats which have evolved to thrive in an acidic environment in their tightly crowded burrows, may hold the key to pain relief, according to an ongoing study.
In their burrows, carbon dioxide builds up to levels that would be toxic for other mammals, including humans. However, these animals freely tolerate these unpleasant conditions, which may offer clues to relieving pain in other animals and humans, says Thomas Park, professor of biological sciences at University of Illinois, Chicago and principal study investigator.
Much of the lingering pain of an injury, for example, is caused by acidification of the injured tissue, Park said, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.
“Acidification is an unavoidable side-effect of injury,” he said. “Studying an animal that feels no pain from an acidified environment should lead to new ways of alleviating pain in humans,” adds Park. Pamela LaVinka, graduate student in biological sciences Chicago, co-authored the study.
In the nose of a mammal, specialized nerve fibres are activated by acidic fumes, stimulating the trigeminal nucleus, a collection of nerves in the brainstem, which in turn elicits physiological and behavioural responses that protect the animal – it will secrete mucus and rub its nose, for example, and withdraw or avoid the acidic fumes, according to a Chicago statement.