Nociception is the biological process of receiving input from our environment, transmitting and interpreting that signal as pain. It involves a four-step process that includes:
- Transduction occurs when the nervous system receives a signal from a stimulus. In the case of Migraine, this could start when we are exposed to a trigger
- Transmission is the movement of that signal through the nervous system via nociceptors (receptors that transmit pain signals).
- Modulation occurs as the signal passes through the hypothalamus. Think of this as your brain’s translation service. Pain perception only occurs when the brain translates the signal in certain ways.
- Perception of pain occurs when specific signals, translated in specific ways, reaches the cortex where it communicates the message we perceive as pain.
Nociception is the neurological process that results in our perception of pain. The brain doesn’t actually feel pain. Instead, it transmits the signals necessary for us to perceive pain. Those of us with Migraine, have over-reactive, sensitized nociceptors. When exposed to just the right stimuli (trigger), our nervous system activates this pain transmission, interpretation, and perception of pain.
Nociception can be measured by experimental EEG results using animal models. In this way, researchers can track the path of nervous system activity that occurs before, during, after, and between Migraine attacks. Studying nociception has resulted in important advances in Migraine science by increasing our:
- understanding of how triggers are processed and interpreted by the nervous system
- identification of nervous system structures involved in pain processing
- understanding how cortical spreading depression activates nociception
- identification of key factors that affect nervous system sensitivity
- identification of targets for future treatments