Oz scientists have found the presence of a gene that plays an important part in the brain's processing of pain, which was implicated in the puzzling condition synaesthesia.
It offers the prospect of a new type of treatment that would numb pain by rerouting its signals and enables a sufferer to instead experience it as colour, sound or even smell.
Advertisement"So it's not really killing pain as much as diverting it into other sensations," News.com.au quoted Greg Neely, from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research, as saying.
"(Pain signals) would go to the brain and then get rerouted and instead of going to the pain centres it would get driven into the vision and the hearing and the smell processing centres.
"In a chronic pain situation, for a person in hospital where morphine has stopped working, maybe we could switch (their pain) to a different perception that is not as unpleasant," said Nelly.
Further studies in the mice showed the same gene, when mutated, had the effect of diverting some pain messages into parts of the brain responsible for the other senses.
"It provided the first genetic insight into synaesthesia, or crossing of the senses, where people experience sounds or written words as colours, or experience tastes, smells and shapes in linked combinations," he added.
Neely said it also provided some explanation as to why some people could be less attuned to feeling pain while a drug could also be invented to induce the same affect.
"Pain is, after all, a perceptual process.
"What's to say we can't translate the experience of pain into the colour blue or the sound of music?" he added.
The findings were published in the journal Cell.
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