Page URL:

Nerve cells behind pain and itch sensations made in lab

1 December 2014
Appeared in BioNews 782

Nerve cells that react to pain and cold in the same way as neurons in the body have been formed in the lab, scientists report.

The neurons responded to capsaicin - the chemical in chillis that makes them taste 'hot' - and menthol, which simulates coldness. Their reaction to temperature and pain matched those of the relevant neurons from mice. The scientists say their findings could help understand why some people become hypersensitive to pain or become itchy as a side-effect of anti-malarial drugs, and develop treatments to ease more chronic pain, such as that caused by chemotherapy.

'We can start to understand how individuals respond uniquely to pain, cold, itch and so on,' said co-lead author Joel Blanchard, from the Scripps Research Institute.

The researchers converted human skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells before adding transcription factors that caused them to become dorsal root ganglia cells. These cells detect touch, pain, and itching, sending signals to the spinal cord and brain.

'We hope that these induced sensory neurons will allow our group and others to identify new compounds that block pain and itch and to better understand and treat neurodegenerative disease and spinal cord injury,' said study author Dr Kristin Baldwin.

A similar approach to forming these cells was published in the same issue of Nature Neuroscience. The other team, based at Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), had previously tried to generate these neurons from embryonic stem cells. When this turned out to be like 'hitting our head against a brick wall', they began to investigate the transcription factors that would be required to form these cells from induced pluripotent stem cells.

They believe this will better allow them to study people who suffer from chronic pain and perhaps develop better painkillers in the longer term. 'Our failure with embryonic stem cells led us to work with adult tissue samples, making the technology much more clinically relevant since these are easy to collect from patients suffering from different kinds of pain,' said Professor Clifford Woolf from HSCI.

Creating pain-sensing neurons
Harvard Gazette |  24 November 2014
Modeling pain in vitro using nociceptor neurons reprogrammed from fibroblasts
Nature Neuroscience |  24 November 2014
Pain and itch in a dish
EurekAlert! (press release) |  24 November 2014
Pain and itch neurons grown in a dish
Nature |  25 November 2014
Scientists create 'pain in a dish': Nerve cells 'grown' in a lab could reveal more about how injury affects the body
MailOnline |  24 November 2014
Selective conversion of fibroblasts into peripheral sensory neurons
Nature Neuroscience |  24 November 2014
1 April 2019 - by Catherine Heffner 
Two rare gene variants have been discovered in a Scottish woman who lives a virtually pain-free life...
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...
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...
26 May 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have found a way to directly convert blood cells into nerve cells of both the central and peripheral nervous system....
10 November 2014 - by Rhys Baker 
Researchers have reversed the effects of Parkinson's disease in rats, using human embryonic stem cells...
29 April 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
Stem cell therapy has improved memory and learning in brain-damaged mice, according to a study in Nature Biotechnology...
17 December 2012 - by Alison Cranage 
Scientists have converted kidney cells from human urine into brain cells, bypassing the need for embryonic stem cells...
13 August 2012 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
Scientists have identified a sub-type of stem cell responsible for neuron development within the cerebral cortex associated with higher level brain function...
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.