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Genetic key to pain sensitivity

Researchers have identified genetic variations that may influence how sensitive people are to pain.

Scientists led by a team at King’s College London identified a set of genes of that regulate pain by interacting with each other. They discovered differences in the genes could influence pain sensitivity.

Published in PLoS Genetics, the study adds to evidence that specific genes play a part in the chronic pain suffered by some people. It is hoped the findings may contribute to a different approach being taken towards developing effective pain relief treatments in the future.

The study, carried out by King’s Pfizer Ltd and the Beijing Genomics Institute, used a new method - exome sequencing - to compare DNA and identify genetic differences related to pain sensitivity.

It found that people who were more sensitive to pain had less variation in their DNA than those who were pain insensitive.

Lead author Dr Frances Williams said with almost a fifth of people experiencing chronic pain during the lives it was a significant problem for them as individuals and for society and the economy in general.

The senior lecturer from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King’s said the possibility of taking a new approach to pain relief was an “exciting development” as current treatments often had side effects or limited effectiveness.

Dr Williams added: “In addition, we have shown that the exome sequencing method could be used to find important pathways in other common conditions.”

Co-author and Pfizer geneticist Serena Scollen said early research was “promising” but further studies were needed to fully understand the genetics responsible for human pain sensitivity.

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