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The Delayed Perception of Pain due to Axon Potential Propagation

The Delayed Perception of Pain due to Axon Potential Propagation


The conscious perception of pain is often delayed because of the time it takes for the sensations to reach the cerebral cortex. Why would this be the case based on propagation of the axon potential?


1. Introduction

Pain is essential for the survival and development of an organism. It is a complex phenomenon that involves a wide range of interrelated and interacting systems in the body. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage. However, there is no strict connection between the amount of tissue damage and the severity of pain experienced. Pain is the subjective feeling of an individual towards the tissue damage as a wide range of factors, such as emotions, attention, and beliefs, can influence and modulate the pain experience. In order for pain to be perceived, specific nociceptors around the body transduce the noxious stimulus into electrical signals, called action potentials. These signals are then sent and processed by various structures along the nervous system until the brain. The cerebral cortex is where the conscious awareness of the perception of pain arises, but it is not the only structure in the brain that is activated in response to pain. The conscious perception of pain, which is the final product of the complex process of nociception and pain sensation, requires neural representations in the cerebral cortex to give rise to the subjective feeling of pain. This is called the “neuromatrix theory of pain” proposed by Dr. Melzack and Casey in 1999. The theory suggests that the perception of pain does not arise mechanically from the transmission of pain from periphery to the brain. Instead, it is produced from the outputs of the widely distributed brain areas that are involved in a complicated network. These areas help to shape the multidimensional experience of pain that people describe and have to cope with. In this study, we are going to specifically look into the “delayed perception of pain” caused by axon potential propagation. When an action potential is initiated in a sensory neuron, it will travel all the way down the entire length of the axon. The axon potential propagation is how signals are transmitted along the axon. Research has shown that the speed of axon potential propagation is affected by various factors, including axon diameter, the degree of myelination, and temperature. We will be examining how the delay in the conscious perception of pain can provide a protective response to potential harmful stimuli. We will also look into the implications for understanding the adaptive value of this delay in terms of evolutionary survival, such as how we can escape danger efficiently and live another day despite suffering from tissue damage that gives rise to pain.

1.1. Explanation of the Conscious Perception of Pain

The transmission of pain sensation is not a fast process, and at any point of the transmission, the sensation can be enhanced or inhibited by the central nervous system. The conscious aspect of the perception of pain arises in the brain, that is, in the cerebral cortex. Pain receptors, also known as nociceptors, are distributed throughout the body and are found on most body tissues except the brain. Nociceptors are special in the sense that they can transduce or transmit damaging signals to the central nervous system for processing and that can give rise to a conscious sensation of pain. When the tissue is damaged, the nociceptors will send danger signals to the brain for processing via the various types of sensory neurons. After the percept of pain, the synthesis of certain substances, for example, nitric oxide, is inhibited. This subsequently causes a reduction in the excitability of nociceptors and could reduce the pain sensation. Pain, on the other hand, can be worsened by certain biological substances such as the nerve growth factor, which is produced in response to tissue damage. Repeated or chronic pain is due to long-term potentiation in the spinal cord, which strengthens the connection between the nerves. This will result in the amount of substance P that is released is more, and thus the pain can last for longer. However, there is another phenomenon that the pain sensation can be reduced, that is known as descending nociceptive control. This originates from the brain and causes certain opiate receptors to be activated in the spinal cord. It works by finding the enkephalin, that is an endorphin, and it temporarily stops the release of the substance P. This entire process is important in understanding the concept of delayed perception of pain. When a person encounters a painful stimulus, the reception of the stimulus by the pain receptors, the nerve transmission of the signal towards the spinal cord, the transmission of the nerve signal from the spinal cord to the brain, and the perception of the pain in the brain is not instantaneous. This and other related neurobiological factors are discussed in respective section 4.

1.2. Role of the Cerebral Cortex in Pain Perception

It is now known that the primary somatosensory and motor cortex (involved in the perception of touch and its transmission and in movement, respectively) and the parts of the frontal lobes are involved in modulating the incoming pain signals. The primary somatosensory cortex is a main receptor site for touch and pain in the cerebral cortex. It has been shown in newer scientific research that the anticipation of pain and the resulting anxiety lessens the efficiency of pain modulation. Recently, new brain images studies have confirmed that the brain’s pain centre, the thalamus, and the cerebral cortex become much less active of the brain in lowering the pain felt and in the transmission of the pain. Judicial use of hypnosis, meditation, prayer, rest and using mind to control the pain and its transmission will help in controlling the pain resulting from an injury. It has also been noted that neurons in the parietal lobe region of the cerebral cortex are active during the perception of pain. Visualization techniques in which a person is helped to focus on a mental image that allows them to replace ‘the experience of the pain’ with a different sensation such as warmth or relaxation may work by influencing the output of the motor cortex in pain and the input by pain sensation in the brain. The motor cortex is a part of the cerebral cortex in the brain where the nerve cells are engaged in planning and guiding movements, in the sense of the body and in the other cognitive processes. Due to the delayed perception of pain by the cerebral cortex, this can lead to potentially dangerous consequences. For example, if a person touches a hot surface with their hand, the signal will travel from the specific receptors on the hand, through the sensory neurons and along the spinal cord. When the signal reaches the brain and is processed in the cerebral cortex, this is when the person becomes conscious of the pain. As a consequence of this delayed perception of the pain, the person’s natural reaction will be to move the hand away from the hot surface, even if it takes a few moments before they actually feel the pain in the hand. This is a common protective function of the delayed perception of pain, and it reduces the chances of any serious damage. The pain that we sometimes feel in our body, like a headache, is an indication that pain perception is being processed at these levels of the brain. Thanks to our cerebral cortex, we can evaluate the physical and the emotional context of the perception of the pain, and this can become a life saver because knowing what caused such a pain (like hitting the thumb with a hammer. Our cerebral cortex will analyze quickly the pain and suggest to the thalamus and the brain that a sharp pain is expected in the thumb. This sort of analysis of the perception of pain in the cerebrum will allow the information of the location of the pain to be transmitted to the right area of the body for action. We can also anticipate the future pains and the perception of pain in the brain so that necessary precaution can be initiated by the body and this would help in preventing future accidents. In the brain, the thalamus responds to the pain signals given off by the body. Its primary job is to act as a relay station for the body for the main sensory aspects and also to the motor control. The thalamus also plays an important role in the regulation of the sleep and the wake cycles. Our cerebral cortex does many amazing things with the pain signals. For instance, it uses the location of the pain and the form of the pain signals to help in determining what category of pain is perceived by the individual person. Studies show that the emotional responses to pain are initiated by the brain perception of pain not any other part of the body. The signals of the emotional pains are relayed to the frontal areas, which also process the emotional and the cognitive well-being of the perception of pain in the mind.

2. Axon Potential Propagation and Delayed Perception

2.1. Overview of Axon Potential Propagation

2.2. Factors Influencing the Speed of Axon Potential Propagation

2.3. Delayed Perception of Pain caused by Axon Potential Propagation

3. Neural Pathways for Pain Sensation

3.1. Transmission of Pain Signals through Neural Pathways

3.2. Role of Sensory Neurons in Pain Perception

3.3. Processing of Pain Signals in the Spinal Cord

4. Time Required for Sensations to Reach the Cerebral Cortex

4.1. Distance and Time Relationship in Axon Potential Propagation

4.2. Speed of Axon Potential Propagation in Pain Sensation

4.3. Processing Time in the Cerebral Cortex

5. Significance of Delayed Perception of Pain

5.1. Protective Function of Delayed Pain Perception

5.2. Adaptation and Survival Advantage

5.3. Implications for Pain Management and Treatment

The Delayed Perception of Pain due to Axon Potential Propagation


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