Gene that causes chronic pain discovered
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Scientists have identified a gene responsible for regulating chronic pain, a finding they say could help develop more effective painkillers.
Researchers at the Cambridge University isolated a gene, called HCN2, which produces a protein that causes chronic neuropathic pain, which is linked to nerve damage and often very difficult to control.
The researchers said if drugs could be designed to block the protein produced by the HCN2 gene, they could effectively treat neuropathic pain, which affects an estimated 280 million people around the world.
Study leader Peter McNaughton said people 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," McNaughton was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
Scientists have known about the HCN2 gene, which is found in pain-sensitive nerve endings, for several years, but had not yet fully understood its role in regulating pain.
A related gene called HCN4 is also known to be playing a critical role in controlling electrical activity in the heart.
McNaughton's team suspected that HCN2 might also have a similar function and regulate electrical activity in pain-sensitive nerves.
For their study, published in the journal Science, the team designed the removal of the HCN2 gene from pain-sensitive nerves and then used electrical stimuli on these nerves in lab dishes to find out how the nerves had been changed by the removal of HCN2.
The scientists then studied genetically modified mice in which the HCN2 gene had been deleted. By measuring the speed the mice withdrew from different types of painful stimuli, the scientists were able to show that deleting the HCN2 gene took away neuropathic pain.
The researchers also found that deleting HCN2 appeared to have no effect on normal acute pain -- such as the type of pain caused by accidentally cutting yourself or biting your own tongue -- which is a useful warning signal to the body.