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OHSU School of Dentistry Team Discovers Underlying Mechanism of Increase in Molecule Responsible for Pain

04/01/11  Portland, Ore.

The research, published in the journal Neuroscience, discovers why a protein involved in pain signaling is produced in abundance

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry have discovered the underlying molecular mechanism behind the increase in production of a pain-signaling protein during inflammation, a project that used an animal model developed last year to study craniofacial pain. The findings were published online the week of Feb.14, and will appear in one of the spring print editions of the journal Neuroscience.

When tissues are inflamed, the nerve cells carrying pain information from the head to the brain boost production of the protein Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is involved in pain signaling. The new study shows that the increase in BDNF is mediated by the pro-inflammatory cytokine Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF), which is dramatically elevated in inflamed tooth pulps. The study also found that nerve stimulation enhances the BDNF production in response to TNF.

The new finding, coupled with an OHSU School of Dentistry discovery last year that indicated nerve cells carrying pain information from the head to the brain produce large quantities of BDNF, could play a significant role in the development of new treatments for orofacial pain conditions, such as TMJ disorder, trigeminal neuralgia and toothache.

About 10 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain conditions and inflammatory craniofacial pain, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The OHSU research was conducted in the lab of Agnieszka Balkowiec, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator, associate professor of integrative biosciences in the OHSU School of Dentistry, and adjunct assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology in the OHSU School of Medicine, by Ewa Balkowiec-Iskra, M.D., Ph.D., visiting scientist from the Medical University of Warsaw; and Anke Vermehren-Schmaedick, Ph.D., research associate.
 
The research was made possible with support from the National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon.

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Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,700 employees. OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

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