New Evidence Demonstrates That Insects Can Experience Chronic Pain


Past research studies have shown that insects do have an equivalent of the human experience of pain. In a new study on pain at the University of Sydney, Associate Professor Greg Neely and colleagues have found evidence for the existence of chronic pain in insects. Their findings appear in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed journal. They hope that a better understanding of the mechanism behind chronic pain in invertebrates and in human beings can lead to better ways of treating chronic pain.

Getting to the Root of Chronic Pain

The existence of a pain equivalent in insects has been scientifically proven from studies dating back to about 2003. Chronic pain or persistent pain is a largely different animal. It is defined as the pain that continues even after the initial injury has completely healed. Until now, it was not known whether insects could experience this as well.

In the pain study conducted, fruit flies or Drosophila were used. One of the legs of a live specimen was injured then allowed enough time to heal fully. It was found that the insect became more sensitive to danger in all its other legs as well, even after healing. This hypersensitivity to danger in insects is equivalent to chronic pain.

Pain looks different in insects than it does in human beings. Insects and other invertebrates have the ability to sense dangerous stimuli and avoid them. This is known as nociception and is similar to the human version of pain. There are many dangerous stimuli in the environment, and this includes physical injury, heat, and cold. Nociception allows insects to detect this and avoid the danger.

The new findings show that a once-injured insect develops an increased sensitivity to danger after its initial injury has healed. The research is also shedding light on the root cause of chronic pain. This could lead to better ways to treat it.

 

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