Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_93181

Chronic pain gene discovery may improve treatment

12 September 2011
Appeared in BioNews 624

A single gene may play a major role in how we perceive pain, UK scientists have discovered. Research published in the journal Science, by a team from the University of Cambridge, shows that the HCN2 gene may be a vital target for future pharmacological research into pain relief.

This gene belongs to the HCN (hyperpolarization activated cyclic nucleotide) group of proteins, responsible for ferrying molecules across membranes in the cell. Despite the fact these ion channels have been known about for many years, they were not well understood. Since the HCN4 protein was known to control electrical impulses in the heart, it was thought that the HCN2 protein, expressed in pain-sensitive nerve endings, might play a role in controlling how electrical impulses in those nerves carry pain messages to the brain.

To test this, the researchers first grew nerve cells lacking HCN2 in the lab, to examine how they reacted to electrical stimuli, compared to cells with HCN2. Next, they moved onto mice lacking HCN2, and tested how quickly the mice reacted to pain.

Chronic pain can be neuropathic (lifelong ongoing pain, where nerves are damaged) or inflammatory (persistent injury such as a burn or arthritis, which results in sensitive nerve endings and increased pain sensation). Not only did the mice in the study suffer no neuropathic pain, even more encouraging was the fact that they still responded to acute pain, meaning they can still react to, and remove themselves from, situations that might be dangerous.

Professor Peter McNaughton, lead author of the study, said: 'Individuals suffering from neuropathic pain often have little or no respite because of the lack of effective medications. Our research lays the groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain by blocking HCN2'.

Several million people in the UK – possibly as many as one in five – suffer from chronic pain, defined as pain lasting more than three to six months, occurring more than three times a week and causing severe discomfort. Some are affected by rare conditions such as the blood disorder erythromelalgia, others have more common causes like osteoarthritis.

Many experience depression and sleep deprivation, often leading to an inability to work. Chronic pain is believed to cost the UK economy approximately £5 billion a year.

 

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Chronic pain: the search for a killer
Guardian |  4 September 2011
Gene find could lead to drug for chronic back pain
BBC |  9 September 2011
Gene That Controls Chronic Pain Identified
Science Daily |  8 September 2011
HCN2 Ion Channels Play a Central Role in Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain
Science |  9 September 2011
Removing single gene from mice eliminates nerve pain
Vancouver Sun |  9 September 2011
Scientists find gene that controls chronic pain
Reuters |  8 September 2011
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
18 December 2017 - by Dr Rachel Huddart 
A newly identified genetic mutation causes members of an Italian family to be unable to feel pain and could lead to the development of new painkillers, research suggests...
18 July 2011 - by Dr Sarah Spain 
Researchers at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA, have reported that the injection of stem cells into heart tissue can significantly improve the symptoms of those with severe angina. They found that exercise tolerance was increased and the number of pain episodes was halved, compared to those not given the injections....
16 January 2010 - by Dr Jay Stone 
An international consortium composed of research groups in America, England and Australia has published its work in January's edition of the Nature Genetics journal, identifying six genetic regions associated with the autoimmune sidease ankylosing spondylitis (AS)....
28 January 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
Gene therapy could ease chronic pain by simulating the pain-killing properties of opiate drugs, researchers from the Departments of Medicine and Neurosciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found, reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team designed a cold virus...
10 May 1999 - by BioNews 
US scientists are working on a new form of gene therapy that targets the spinal cord in order to treat chronic pain. In the study, which is still at the animal testing stage, researchers used an adenovirus (similar to a cold virus) to deliver the beta-endorphin genes to the rats...
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in 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.