AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 3, 2017

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Sex Differences in Brain Activity Alter Pain Therapies

A female brain’s resident immune cells are more active in regions involved in pain processing relative to males, according to a recent study by Georgia State University researchers. The study found that when microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, were blocked, female response to opioid pain medication improved and matched the levels of pain relief normally seen in males. Women suffer from a higher incidence of chronic and inflammatory pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. While morphine continues to be one of the primary drugs used for the treatment of severe or chronic pain, it is often less effective in females. “Indeed, both clinical and preclinical studies report that females require almost twice as much morphine as males to produce comparable pain relief,” said Hillary Doyle, graduate student in the Murphy Laboratory in the Neuroscience Institute of Georgia State. “Our research team examined a potential explanation for this phenomenon, the sex differences in brain microglia.”

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