Researchers find link between chronic pain, anxiety disorder

Blocking a peptide in mice reduced symptoms of both, suggesting a better treatment method than opioids and benzodiazepines.

By Stephen Feller

BURLINGTON, Vt., Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Expression of a single peptide was linked to both anxiety disorder and chronic pain, suggesting a better method for treating patients with both conditions than the combination of dangerous pharmaceuticals, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Vermont found pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide, or PACAP, plays a role in both anxiety disorder and chronic pain conditions, and found blocking its action in the nervous system may be a better way to treat patients than the current standard.


"Chronic pain and anxiety-related disorders frequently go hand-in-hand," Dr. Victor May, a professor of neurological sciences at the University of Vermont, said in a press release.

May and other researchers at the university found in a 2011 study that PACAP was expressed in women with PTSD, which led to the new study's examination of how the peptide operates in the nervous system.

For the new study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the researchers used mice to determine the where pathways for stress and pain intersect in mice, applying a PACAP receptor antagonist to successfully reduce both in the rodents.


The finding is significant because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued strong warnings against the use of opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines together, which is the current standard of treatment for patients with both conditions.

"By targeting this regulator and pathway, we have opportunities to block both chronic pain and anxiety disorders," said May, who plans to next develop small molecule compounds that can antagonize PACAP actions. "This would be a completely different approach to using benzodiazepine and opioids -- it's another tool in the arsenal to battle chronic pain and stress-related behavioral disorders."

Latest Headlines