New tool for neural study

We realize it is slitting our own throats to give any credit to that great sucking wind called NASA which gobbles up all research funds, but the Japanese are covering their rear.


Neurolab is a consortium of the various space sgencies, which had its origin in trying to figure out why astronauts tend to be light-headed when they return from space.

Some of the studies were not so overwhelming, such as the one to see if an astronaut could catch a 9 cm. ball propelled downward into his outstretched hand. The successful catch, and the documentation with a complicated “Camille” camera, aka camera illumination extender (to silence those who think NASA stages things) cost about as much as a big league player gets for the season, but it was at least a hopeful indicator that NASA had not forgotten neuroscience entirely.

NASA has not exactly followed up on Neurolab. The website is still “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” (since 1998!!!) at http://neurolab.jsc.nasa.gov/mtgipart.htm

However, the Japanese partners are still working with the data they gathered.

As you have read elsewhere at this site, pain after spinal cord injury raises a couple of interesting questions:

1) How does pain get up to the brain if the cord is cut? Where is the bypass? Most theorists suspect either the autonomics, which have interconnecting branches outside the cord which could bypass a discrete level of injury and then bring it back in higher, or the sympathetic afferents which travel with blood vessels, or maybe both.

2) Can C fibers (the very small unmyelinated neurons) sensitize via the autonomic system once the cord is cut?

The Japanese, famous for thinking small, put very tiny metallic tracers in fish and toads on one of the flights and we know now that even in these spinal intact animals, the C fibers were regulating the autonomics.

Mano, et al in Clin Neurophysiol. 2006 Aug 9 have now reported that the technique, named microneurography, can be used to study peripheral neural traffic in humans.

“Microneurography is a method using metal microelectrodes to investigate directly identified neural traffic in myelinated as well as unmyelinated efferent and afferent nerves leading to and coming from muscle and skin in human peripheral nerves in situ.”

It is not clear how much this technique will actually be used, but what is really interesting is that it has demonstrated that it is the C fibers which regulate the autonomics. This of course creates further suspicion that the autonomics may be the bypass by which pain can get to the brain after cord damage. It also suggests a rational mechanism by which brain pain (central pain) originating in the thalamus could be evoked or enhanced by input from the peripherae; by further hypersensitization input from C fibers.

Central Pain is largely a disease of hyper-sensitization of the pain system. C fibers have long been associated with central pain. We now think we know their partner in tormenting us. It may well be the autonomics (the unconscious nervous system), which have loops which bypass cord. Mano further adds that “Recordings of afferent discharges in thin myelinated and unmyelinated fibers from nociceptors in muscle and skin have been used to provide information concerning pain.”

The public is very skeptical that people with severed cords can feel pain (if they only knew), but now at least you have space science on your side, and as we all know, no one questions space science.

Your symptoms are becoming more credible all the time, but now we have to find science that will LESSEN them.