Chronic Pain Gene Identified

Chronic pain gene discovery could lead to new treatments

(RxWiki News) Do you ever wonder why you have that persistent pain in your back? Or where that chronic headache comes from? Scientists may finally have the answer.

The gene responsible for regulating chronic pain, named HCN2, has been pinpointed by researchers from the University of Cambridge.

"Talk to a doctor about treating chronic pain."

Peter McNaughton, lead author of the study and head of the department of pharmacology at the University of Cambridge, said that patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain often receive little relief because of the lack of effective medications. He said discovery of the gene could lead to new drugs that could treat lingering pain by blocking the gene.

In the United Kingdom where the research was conducted about one in every seven people cope with chronic pain, most often arthritis, back pain and headaches. Chronic pain is usually either inflammatory from a persistent injury where enhanced sensitivity of pain-sensitive nerve endings cause increased pain sensations, or neuropathic in which nerve damage causes on-going pain and hypersensitivity.

Neuropathic pain is often lifelong and isn't well treated with current drugs. Neuropathic pain is common in back pain, after chemotherapy and in those with diabetes.

Scientists previously knew about the HCN2 gene, but did not fully understand its role in regulating pain. It had previously been suspected that the gene might regulate the frequency of electrical activity in pain-sensitive nerves.

During the study, researchers removed the HCN2 gene from pain-sensitive nerves. They then used electrical stimuli on the nerves in cell cultures to determine how properties were changed by the removal of the gene.

After promising results, investigators examined genetically modified mice in which the HCN2 gene had been removed. They measured the speed by which mice withdrew from painful stimuli and determined that deleting the gene eliminated neuropathic pain. Researchers also noted that deleting the gene does not affect acute pain such as a cut or scrape.

McNaughton said the finding that removal of the gene does not eliminate acute pain is valuable since a normal painful sensation is necessary for avoiding accidents.

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Union, was published in the Sept. 9 edition of journal Science.

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Review Date: 
September 8, 2011