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E. A Memory That's Worth Forgetting

Narrator: This is Science Today. If you've ever had surgery, you unfortunately know about post-operative pain. Dr. Allan Basbaum, a professor and research scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, says this pain is essentially just a bad memory.

Basbaum: The spinal cord, which processes the information and then sends it off to the brain to produce pain in a conscious patient, is still processing the information, even in the setting of general anesthesia. What that means is that there is effectively a memory of the pain.

Narrator: Basbaum and his colleagues have discovered that this bad memory, so to speak, can be avoided by preventing certain neurotransmitters, or messengers of pain, from ever reaching the spinal cord. He says this can be done by combining local and general anesthetics - like a dentist does.

Basbaum: The dentist would inject local anesthetics at the teeth, which is really what this is about, you want to inject local anesthetics near the injury site, near the site of operation. The spinal cord never experiences the injury in the first place and you reduce the likelihood of getting this clinical problem established.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.