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December 21, 2012, Shenzhen, China – An international team, comprised King’s College London, Pfizer, BGI and other organizations, has explored the genetic variation related with pain sensitivity in the normal population, revealing some existing discovery that treatments for high blood pressure may also be used to treat chronic pain in the future. The latest study was published online in the international journal PLoS Genetics.
When the pain lasts a long time for six months or longer, it generally called chronic pain, one of the most costly health problems. Chronic pain is a significant personal and socio-economic burden, with nearly one in five people experiencing it at some time during their lives. Current pain treatments have either limited efficacy or significant side effects for many patients. It is urgent for researchers to study the genetic mechanisms of pain for developing new approaches to pain relief.
The study reported here casts new light on treating chronic pain. They tested 2,500 volunteers using a heated probe on the arm. Volunteers were asked to press a button when the heat became uncomfortable for them, which allowed the scientists to determine individuals’ pain thresholds. Exome sequencing was then carried out on DNA samples from 200 of the most pain sensitive and 200 of the least pain sensitive people. The results showed significant different patterns of rare variants on 138 genes including the gene GZMM between the two groups.
Additionally, they observed a significant enrichment of these genes on the angiotensin pathway. Angiotensin II is a peptide hormone involved in the control of blood pressure. The study here supports the notion that the angiotensin II pathway plays an important role in pain regulation in human and indicates that genetic variation in the pathway may influence sensitivity to pain. Existing drugs that regulate blood pressure may offer new safe methods to control pain.
Dr Frances Williams, Senior Lecturer from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, said, “This finding is exciting because it opens up the possibility that existing drugs for high blood pressure could also be used to treat pain. Further studies are needed to test this in humans, but early studies in this area are promising.”
Xin Jin, Project Manager from BGI, said, “There are more and more evidence support that rare variants, which were overlooked in genome-wide association study (GWAS), play a very important role in complex disease and traits. Next-generation sequencing makes it possible to explore these rare variants and will led the next wave of discovery in biomedical research.”