Chronic Pain–Scientists Close in on Origins; New Human Study ID’s Top 10 Genes for Future Focus—All 10 Are Involved in Immune Signaling & Response; Expression of These Genes “Strikingly” Different in Males vs Females; Results “Should Have Broad Impact”

A new study by researchers at The University of Texas (UT) at Dallas, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health Science Center at Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine has produced evidence of the source of chronic pain in humans, revealing several new targets for pain treatment. The research reported in the paper--published online on March 19, 2019 in Brain, one of the world's oldest neurology journals--examined specialized nerve cells clustered near the base of the spine. The open-access article is titled “Electrophysiological and Transcriptomic Correlates of Neuropathic Pain in Human Dorsal Root Ganglion Neurons.” Researchers took advantage of an exceedingly rare opportunity to study these nerves, called dorsal root ganglia (DRG), removed from cancer patients undergoing surgery at MD Anderson. The researchers catalogued variations in RNA expression in the dorsal root ganglia cells of patients differing by pain state and sex. Using RNA sequencing, a specialized form of gene sequencing, on those DRG cells yielded a list of promising biochemical pathways for which researchers might be able to devise analgesic (pain-relieving) drugs. "This surgery is not done at many places," said Dr. Ted Price, PhD, a senior author of the paper and Eugene McDermott Professor of Neuroscience in the UT Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. "Our patient cohort of 21, though it doesn't sound like many, is huge, relative to any prior human chronic pain study using RNA sequencing." Chronic pain is labeled as neuropathic when it is caused by damage to nerve cells. Examples include phantom limb syndrome, pain resulting from a stroke, and the "pins and needles" sensations associated with diabetes.
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