Certain behaviors, such as eating, drinking and urinating, are so crucial to survival that the brains of all vertebrates contain clusters of nerve cells that can suppress pain long enough to allow the animal to eat, drink -- or pee -- in peace.
A report from researchers at the University of Chicago, published early online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that by activating "OFF" cells and shutting down "ON" cells in the ventromedial medulla (VMM) – a small region in the brain stem – animals provide themselves with a form of "eating-induced analgesia," allowing them to complete essential tasks even in a difficult situation.
"Escaping pain and potential dangers may be important protective behaviors, but eating, drinking, and eliminating wastes are absolutely essential," said study author Peggy Mason, Ph.D., professor in the department of neurobiology, pharmacology and physiology (NPP) at the University of Chicago. "What we found was a very effective system that lets these animals focus on the essentials and postpone concerns that are slightly less pressing. Its as if they could give themselves a six-second dose of morphine, allowing hunger to override pain."
John Easton | EurekAlert!
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