Pain Sensitivity Depends On Genetics

Chronic pain genes have been identified by researchers and may be linked to blood pressure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A person’s genetics determines a lot about them, including the way they look, their personality traits and health risks. Research suggests more and more that rare DNA combinations can play an important role in diseases and traits. Scientists are trying to find out more.

A recent study studied and compared DNA to find genetic variations associated with pain sensitivity. The study suggests that chronic pain is associated with specific genes and that treating these genes could be an effective treatment.

The study also suggests there is a possible link between blood pressure and chronic pain.

"Talk to a doctor about treatments for your chronic pain"

Dr. Frances Williams of King’s College London and colleagues from King’s College London, Pfizer Ltd and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) tested 2,500 volunteers using a heated probe on the arm.

The study participants pressed a button when the heat became too uncomfortable. This signaled their pain tolerance to the researchers.

The researchers then carried out exome sequencing, a strategy used to sequence genetic coding, on DNA samples from 200 of the least pain sensitive and 200 of the most pain sensitive people.

How sensitive a person is to pain varies and is genetically inherited. Those who are more sensitive to pain are at a greater risk for developing chronic pain.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for longer six months and typically comes from long-standing medical conditions or injury to the body. This long term pain can interrupt work, recreation, and relationships with friends and families.

Research for chronic pain is important because the condition is common and current treatments can be expensive, have limited efficacy or significant side effects. Understanding underlying genetic factors can help researchers understand the biology of pain and new areas to target for therapy.

The results of the study showed that pain sensitive people had less variation in their DNA than those who were pain insensitive.

The researchers found different patterns of rare variants on 138 genes between those who were pain sensitive and those who were pain insensitive. The strongest difference in a single gene was seen in the gene GZMM.

The researchers also observed an enrichment of these genes on the angiotesin pathway, an area of the DNA associated with the control of blood pressure. This suggests a possible link between pain regulation and blood pressure.

Future research could look further into this link and could include investigating blood pressure drugs as a way to treat pain.

The study was published in the journal PLoS Genetics and was a joint project between King’s College London, Pfizer Ltd and Beijing Genomics Institute. No other conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 2, 2013
Last Updated:
January 5, 2013