Peptides to fight pain

Chronic pain affects around 20 per cent of the world’s population at any one time. It is the most common reason people seek medical help in Australia. Chronic pain often goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression.

Short chains of amino acids—known as peptides—may offer hope. A collaboration between neurobiologists at The Florey at The University of Melbourne and CNRS units affiliated with the Universities of Bordeaux and Strasbourg has made significant progress towards an entirely new approach to treating pain.

They have shown that chronic pain and related anxiety can be reduced by stimulating particular neurochemical pathways in the brain. Using specific peptides, they activate neural membrane receptors to create an analgesic effect.

The team has completed studies on the cholecystokinin and oxytocin receptor systems in areas of the brain including the amygdala. A new project aims to determine the role of relaxin-3 receptor signalling in the plasticity of descending circuits associated with inflammatory pain and related anxiety. The goal is that the research will lead to novel treatment strategies.

According to Professor Andrew Gundlach from The Florey, there are substantial benefits from international links.

“It’s exciting to see the additional intellectual and technical resources that have been brought together to find solutions for this major burden of disease,” Andrew says.

“This collaboration has so much potential. We have obtained promising results so far, and with additional funding our studies might progress all the way to clinical trials,”

The collaboration has been supported through a memorandum of understanding between The Florey and the University of Bordeaux.