Scientists have discovered an organ in the skin that may cause people to experience pain.
Up until now, experts believe that nerve fibres in the skin are responsible for picking up on uncomfortable stimuli, like pricks and blows.
But a team at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has discovered a mesh-like organ within the skin that consists of glial cells. It has been dubbed the nociceptive glio-neural complex.
Glial cells are surrounded by hair-like structures that are thought to be sensitive to external stimuli.
When this network of cells were blocked in mice, it reduced their sensation of pain, the researchers claim.
They hope their study will help experts ‘understand chronic pain’, which could lead to new treatments for the millions of sufferers.
“Our study shows sensitivity to pain does not occur only in the skin’s nerve fibres, but also in this recently discovered pain-sensitive organ,’ lead author Professor Patrik Ernfors said.
“The discovery changes our understanding of the cellular mechanisms of physical sensation and it may be of significance in the understanding of chronic pain,” he added.
Experiencing pain is an ‘essential prerequisite for the survival of an organism’, the researchers wrote in the journal Science.
The unpleasant sensation triggers a reflex action that prevents damage to tissue, such as automatically pulling your hand away when you burn yourself.
However, pain also causes suffering and can be costly to society if people have to take days off work, the researchers wrote.
Glial cells were once thought to just surround and protect the nerve cells that trigger pain.