Knowing how paracetamol works may lead to better and safer ways of pain relief.
Paracetamol, often known in the US and Asia as acetaminophen, is a widely used analgesic (painkiller) and the main ingredient in everyday medications such as cold and flu remedies.
Although discovered in the 1890s and marketed as a painkiller since the 1950s, exactly how it relieves pain was unknown.
Now, the King's College researchers have discovered for the first time the principal mechanism of action for one of the most-used drugs in the world.
The King's researchers with colleagues from Lund University in Sweden, have identified that a protein called TRPA1, found on the surface of nerve cells, is a key molecule needed for paracetamol to be an effective painkiller.
"This is an extremely exciting finding, which unlocks the secrets of one of the most widely-used medicines, and one which could impact hugely on the development of new pain relief drugs," said Dr David Andersson, from the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases at King's.
"Paracetamol is the go-to medicine for treating common aches and pains, but if the recommended dose is significantly exceeded it can lead to fatal complications.
"So now we understand the underlying principal mechanism behind how this drug works, we can start to look for molecules that work in the same way to effectively relieve pain, but are less toxic and will not lead to serious complications following overdose," he stated.he study has been published online today in Nature Communications.