Monday, November 22, 2010

Redirecting Pain into Sound


Rose, Danny. “Turn Chronic Pain into the Colour Blue”. The Sydney Morning Herald. (15 November 2010). Retrieved from

Neely, G. Gregory, Andreas Hess, Michael Costigan, Alex C. Keene, Spyros Goulas, Michiel Langeslag, Robert S. Griffin, et al. 2010. A genome-wide drosophila screen for heat nociception identifies α2δ3 as an evolutionarily conserved pain gene. Cell 143 (4) (11/12): 628-38.

Summary: Dr. Neely and his research team from Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney identified a gene called ‘α2δ3’ which plays an important role in the brain’s pain perception and also closely related to synesthesia. They investigated the genome of fruit flies to locate the gene for pain perception, and α2δ3, the gene also exists in mice and humans, was found. The discovery of α2δ3 is significant in identifying the genetic cause for synesthesia, the phenomenon of misdirected sensory inputs to the brain. The team experimented with mice to see if α2δ3 can be used to redirect the pain signals. The result showed that the mutated α2δ3 has the effect of diverting pain signals into visual, aural, or olfactory perceptions. American collaborators at Harvard, Pittsburg, and North Carolina Universities studied variations of α2δ3 in people and discovered that people with certain variation of α2δ3 are less sensitive to the acute heat pain and chronic back pain. These findings suggest the possibility of pain treatment through turning it into colours, sounds, or smells using α2δ3.     

Reflection: Famous composers such as Liszt, Scriabin, and Rimsky-Korsakov were known to have visual synesthesia, the condition of seeing colours when hearing music. Although synesthesia has been an area of interest for music educators for its unique connection between the visual and aural perception, the focus was on teaching music to synesthetes or using synesthetic approach of associating music with images or words as an effective teaching method. However, this article addressed the possibility of applying neurological synesthetic effects of diverting sensory inputs to the general population. Imagine hearing music instead of migraine, smelling flower scents instead of back pain, or seeing the colour purple instead of toothache! While the idea of turning pain into other sensations has huge potential for medical treatments, it is also interesting to imagine its possible use in music education. Many music educators associate tactile sensations (ex. heavy, light, hot, cold, painful, or balanced) to sounds. What if we can really ‘feel’ the music or ‘hear’ our feelings? Wouldn't that be the total embodiment of music or the true expression of feeling through music? While it might sound unrealistic, it may not be so in the future.


Lilly said...

Very important to know that, I think many people confuse one thing with another, because back pain is very similar to kidney pain, but it is good to know this kind of experience where we report what are the differences, I have 6 months suffering from back pain and took hydrocodone on the recommendation of the doctor, because it is a painkiller that solves the problems of pain, and although in many places as Findrxonline, wikipedia, they say they are dangerous because of side effects is also good to indicate that it is these opioid which help improve the treatment of pain.

Michael Kolk said...

This is a very interesting development in the field of synaesthesia. It's also interesting to think of the implications of turning someone into a synaesthet with a pill. It sounds like a great idea, but regular pain killers can be seriously addictive - imagine pain killers that also had the effect of psychedelic drugs! This drug could become very popular. Unless, I suppose, the visual or aural effects that replaced the pain were unpleasant themselves. However, wouldn't this experience be quite distracting to someone? (ie. their intense pain converted into flashing lights or sounds) I suppose controlling what effect the drug had would be vital to it's viability, and I wonder if scientists are close to being able to do this...