The discovery lies in a relatively new field of investigation called epigenetics, where scientists study how genes are switched on and off in response to changes in the body.
The findings raise the possibility that pain sensitivity might be treatable by drugs that switch certain genes off.
One gene in particular, TRPA1, which is already known to be involved with pain sensitivity and a target in the development of analgesics or painkillers, showed the most epigenetic changes.
However, although TRPA1 is already known to be involved with pain sensitivity, this is the first time that pain sensitivity has been linked to epigenetic changes in the gene.
“The potential to epigenetically regulate the behaviour of TRPA1 and other genes involved in pain sensitivity is very exciting and could lead to a more effective pain relief treatment for patients suffering with chronic pain.”
Genetic Switches Turn Off Pain – more from Forbes (you know it’s significant when business gets interested)
A clutch of genes that help determine how sensitive we are to pain can be turned on or off, scientists have discovered.
By studying identical female twins with different pain thresholds, scientists at King’s College London have now found a high correlation with methylation, a chemical switch used by cells to control whether DNA strands are active or not, at nine pain-related sites.
Methylation is a natural process of adding methyl (CH3) molecules to cytosine, one of the four base pairs that make up the DNA code. Methylation stops the associated gene from being copied, thus preventing it from influencing what happens in the cell.
One of the nine sites identified by Bell and her team is TRPA1, a known pain-related gene, which showed the strongest correlation with pain intolerance. Most of the other genes worked the same way, but some had the opposite effect on sensitivity
Bell said that although the research showed a clear pattern, it did not prove causality. “It may be that your pain threshold changes first and that changes your methylation.
Even the researchers point out that association does not imply a causal relationship.
Below is the research article from “Nature Communications”: