Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered a gene associated with susceptibility to chronic pain caused by nerve injury in people. The researchers’ findings were reported online on August 5th by Genome Research. This discovery should open the door for better understanding and treating of chronic pain.
Chronic pain is a really big problem with 20% of adults suffering from it. Some people are more likely to suffer more pain than others after the same types of surgeries or accidents and this is why researchers wanted to find out what the difference was among individuals with different pain levels in near identical situations. According to the article on ProHealth:
To accelerate research in this field, animal models are proving to be critical to understanding the underlying biology of chronic pain in human patients.
First, the international research team – led by Profs. Ariel Darvasi and Marshall Devor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and including scientists in Canada and Europe – identified a region of mouse chromosome 15 that likely contained a genetic variant or variants contributing to pain.
However, this region contains many genes, and the responsible variant remained unknown. Next, they undertook two fine-mapping approaches to narrow down the chromosomal locus to an interval of 155 genes. By applying bioinformatics approaches and whole genome microarray analysis, they then were able to confidently identify a single gene, CACNG2, as the likely candidate.
To further test the potential role for CACNG2 in chronic pain, the authors utilized a mouse strain harboring a mutant version of the gene that had previously been used in epilepsy research.
In testing the mice for behavioral and electrophysiological characteristics of chronic pain, they found that the observations were consistent with a functional role for CACNG2 in pain, even though it might be modest.
Their next project was to research human subjects. The researchers analyzed breast cancer patients who experienced chronic pain for 6 months or longer after they had either part or all of their breast removed. In these patients, they found that genetic variants of CACNG2 were significantly associated with this chronic pain.
The authors cautioned that although this association will need to be analyzed further, the result is encouraging in pointing to this gene as a significant factor in experiencing pain.
“The immediate significance is the mere awareness that differences in pain perception may have a genetic predisposition,” Darvasi explained.
“Our discovery may provide insights for treating chronic pain through previously unthought-of mechanisms.”