Page URL:

Woman with rare genes feels no pain

1 April 2019
Appeared in BioNews 993

Two rare gene variants have been discovered in a Scottish woman who lives a virtually pain-free life.

Seventy-one-year-old Jo Cameron has experienced childbirth, multiple surgeries and minor injuries with hardly any experience of pain or need for pain relief. When she needed a hip operation, consultant anaesthetist Dr Devjit Srivastava – a co-author on the paper – noticed her pain insensitivity and referred her to geneticists at University College London and the University of Oxford.

'We found this woman has a particular genotype that reduces activity of a gene already considered to be a possible target for pain and anxiety treatments,' said study author Dr James Cox, of UCL. 'Once we understand how the new gene works, we can think about gene therapies that mimic the effects we see in her. There are millions of people living in pain and we definitely need new analgesics.'

The study, published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, describes two changes to Cameron's genome which the researchers think are responsible for her pain insensitivity. One is a small deletion in a gene called FAAH. The second is a change in a newly identified gene, FAAH-OUT, which scientists believe acts to control the amount of FAAH.

Both genes are involved in regulating levels of a chemical called anandamide. Sharing similar effects to cannabis, anadamide is made naturally in the body and plays important roles in memory, fear and pain perception. It has also been related to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Cameron has twice as much anandamide as the average person, which study authors believe may be a result of the two mutations. She also has accelerated wound healing and very little anxiety.

Cameron's astonishing lack of pain response was only noticed by doctors when, despite extreme deterioration of her hip joint, she felt no pain, and only approached doctors when she was unable to walk. 

'I had no idea until a few years ago that there was anything that unusual about how little pain I feel,' said Cameron. 'I just thought it was normal.' 

The authors believe there may be others with similar mutations who are also unaware of their condition, and urged people who experience less pain to come forward. 'People with rare insensitivity to pain can be valuable to medical research as we learn how their genetic mutations impact how they experience pain,' said Dr Cox.

Microdeletion in a FAAH pseudogene identified in a patient with high anandamide concentrations and pain insensitivity
British Journal of Anaesthesia |  27 March 2019
Scientists find genetic mutation that makes woman feel no pain
The Guardian |  28 March 2019
The woman who doesn't feel pain
BBC |  28 March 2019
Woman who feels no pain could help scientists develop new painkillers
CNN |  28 March 2019
Woman with novel gene mutation lives almost pain-free
EurekAlert |  27 March 2019
14 December 2015 - by Jessica Richardson 
Scientists have discovered why people with a rare genetic mutation are unable to feel pain – a finding that could lead to treatments for chronic pain conditions...
1 June 2015 - by Paul Waldron 
Scientists studying people who are unable to feel pain have found a gene responsible for this rare condition...
1 December 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
Nerve cells that react to pain and cold in the same way as human neurons have been formed in the lab, scientists report...
10 February 2014 - by Claire Downes 
Lifestyle and environmental factors can alter sensitivity to pain by switching certain genes on or off, according to research from King’s College London...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.