01 May 2024

Researchers say they hope to develop ways of predicting sickle cell pain crises through improved understanding of the brain’s response to the disease.

The team from the Indiana University School of Medicine, USA, identified a brain network condition, called ‘explosive synchronisation’, that occurs as a result of repeated disruptions to the brain caused by sickle cell disease.

The scientists say their findings may also help researchers to test the effectiveness of pain relief techniques, including acupuncture, which could reduce the frequency of pain crises.

The researchers study electroencephalogram (EEG) data from 25 patients with sickle cell disease, and 18 matched healthy controls. They found significant correlations between pain and strength of explosive synchronisation.

The researchers now want to find ways to apply the findings to portable and user-friendly EEG devices that could be used by clinicians and perhaps other individuals. They hope to create a multi-dimensional brain network model to improve prediction of pain crises.

Study leader Dr Ying Wang, assistant professor of anaesthesia at the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, said: “Unpredictable vaso-occlusive crises, known as pain crises, are extremely acute painful episodes, and the hallmark of sickle cell disease. With our research, we could soon be able to predict these episodes and provide interventions sooner for patients.

“Our goal is to identify the temporal changes of the brain hypersensitivity network associated with the occurrence and progression of each pain crisis event. We are also studying the effect of pain relief by treatments such as acupuncture, which may be able to reduce the occurrence and/or intensity of chronic pain and pain crises via mediating the strength of explosive synchronisation and brain network hypersensitivity.”


Joo P, Kim M, Kish B, Nair VV, Tong Y, Liu Z, O'Brien ARW, Harte SE, Harris RE, Lee U, Wang Y. (2024) “Brain network hypersensitivity underlies pain crises in sickle cell disease.” Scientific Reports, 27 March 2024, doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-57473-5.

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-024-57473-5

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