Nerve injury pain article in Scientific American

The June Scientific American, pp. 61-67 reviews some important aspects of pain chemistry at the synapse. Realizing how little the average scientist knows about pain chemistry, Dr. Basbaum and Dr. Julius dumb things down, compared to their actual knowledge. This only shows how tough it has been to get the scientifically minded public to equip themselves with knowledge of pain. It has been far worse to get clinicians to study it.


Alan Basbaum is one of those humble geniuses. He is an anatomist at UCSF, who has made very helpful comments to those of us at painonline. We need critique as does everyone, but he is just too polite to be negative so we have to look for an absence of affirmation to tell when he has concerns. Most pain anatomy is available in the texts, but occasionally, when we get down to the molecular level and chemoarchitecture of the pain pathways, Dr. Basbaum has been most helpful on certain points.

In the June 2006 edition of Scientific American, Dr. Basbaum along with David Julius has presented a very readable summary of what we know about the multiple avenues of the pain pathways to this point, avoiding the unproven and controversial, which Dr. Basbaum also knows but has chosen not to include.. The article has some excellent illustrations which are not publishable here for copyright reasons, but given the plethora of articles on various points, we thought a review of his synthesis would give structure on which you can rely when perusing the various topics here.

He begins by defining a pain neuron (or nociceptor). A nociceptor has