• September 24, 2022

Neuroscientists Discovers how Sound Reduces Pain in Mice

Sound reduces pain in mice by lowering the activity of neurons in the brain’s auditory cortex (green and magenta) that project to the thalamus. Wenjie Zhou

Neuroscientists have pinpointed the brain pathways through which sound reduces pain in mice. New pain-relieving techniques are to be developed based on the findings published in Science. Anhui Medical University and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Project (NIDCR) in China collaborated on the research, which NIDCR experts directed. The National Institutes of Health includes NIDCR.

Our understanding of basic brain processes that regulate pain is critical to developing new treatments for acute and chronic pain, according to NIDCR Director Rena D’Souza, DDS, Ph.D. When it comes to pain therapy, this work provides essential insight into the circuitry that mediates the pain-reducing benefits of sound in mice.

Music and other forms of sound have been found to help decrease acute and chronic pain, including pain from dental and medical surgery, labor and delivery, and cancer, since at least 1960 in humans. However, the exact mechanism through which the brain generates analgesia, or numbing of pain, remains a mystery.
Co-senior author Yuanyuan (Kevin) Liu, Ph.D., a Stadtman tenure-track investigator at NIDCR, remarked that “human brain imaging studies have implicated some parts of the brain in music-induced analgesia, but these are simply connections.” It is easier to determine the neurological substrates in animals since we can more easily change the circuitry.

Mice with inflamed paws were first exposed to beautiful classical music and an unpleasant reworking of the same piece. White noise was also used as a control group. At a whisper level, all three types of sound reduced pain sensitivity in the mice, surprising researchers. Animals’ pain reactions were unaffected by increasing the amplitude of the same noises.

This finding startled Liu and his colleagues, as it was based solely on how loud a sound was rather than how pleasant it was. The researchers utilized non-infectious viruses paired with fluorescent proteins to study the brain circuitry underlying this impact. The auditory cortex collects and interprets sound information; the thalamus is a relay station for bodily sensory impulses, including pain. They found a connection between these two brain regions. Low-intensity white noise inhibited the activity of neurons at the thalamic receiving end in freely moving mice.

Light and tiny molecules mimicked low-intensity noise’s pain-blurring effects, whereas turning on the route restored animals’ sensitivity to pain when there was no sound. It’s not apparent if the same brain processes are engaged in humans or if other qualities of music, such as its perceived harmony or pleasantness, are vital for human pain treatment, according to Liu. Although he didn’t know if human music had any significance to rodents, he did say that “you have a lot of emotional components” in human music.

These findings could provide a starting point for human investigations, which could then be used to guide the creation of safer opiate substitutes. The National Institutes of Health’s Division of Intramural Research funded this study. Additional funding came from the National Key Research and Development Program of China’s Brain Sciences and Brain-Like Intelligence Technology, the NSFC’s National Science Fund for Creative Research Groups, CAS Project for Young Scientists in Basic Research, Natural Science Foundation of Anhui Province, and the UST Research Funds for the Double First-Class Initiation Program.

This press release explains a fundamental scientific discovery of how sound reduces pain. Human behavior and biology can only be fully understood at the molecular level by conducting a study at the basic, not clinical, level. It’s impossible to foretell how each discovery will affect the rest of the scientific community. Knowledge of core basic research is essential to many clinical improvements. Visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to discover more about basic research.

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