Examining rare individuals who are born unable to feel pain, an international team of researchers has identified a gene essential to make our brains sensitive to pain. The discovery could lead to new pain relief methods.
"We are very hopeful that this new gene could be an excellent candidate for drug development," said the study's first author Ya-Chun Chen from University of Cambridge. "This could potentially benefit those who are at danger from lack of pain perception and help in the development of new treatments for pain relief," Chen said.
People who are born unable to feel pain -- an inherited condition known as congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) - accumulate numerous self-inflicted injuries, often leading to reduced lifespan. The researchers analysed genetic make-up of 11 families across Europe and Asia affected CIP. This enabled them to pinpoint the cause of the condition to variants of the gene PRDM12.
Family members affected by CIP carried two copies of the variant; however, if they had only inherited one copy from their parents, they were unaffected. The team found that in people affected by CIP particular pain-sensing neurons were absent.
"The ability to sense pain is essential to our self-preservation, yet we understand far more about excessive pain than we do about lack of pain perception," Geoff Woods from University of Cambridge said. "Both are equally important to the development of new pain treatments - if we know the mechanisms that underlie pain sensation, we can then potentially control and reduce unnecessary pain," Woods said.
The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.