Chronic Pain May Change Immune System
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports has found that chronic pain may change our immune system by reprogramming how the genes work.
Pain is considered chronic when it lasts for six months or more. It’s one of the most common causes of disability globally, and the physical and emotional effects can seriously impact the individual's quality of life. There are no effective treatments, nor is there any way to know who will develop it following an injury. Being able to predict this would enable prevention strategies to be developed.
A team of researchers from McGill University in Montreal studied DNA from the brains and white blood cells of rats to investigate the possibility of a link between chronic pain and DNA, or epigenetic mechanisms in the brain.
They used a method that mapped DNA marking by a chemical called a methyl group. Chemical marking is an important concept in epigenetics, a growing field of study into how the expression of gene activity is regulated while the genetic structure remains the same.
The scientists found a large number -- somewhere between hundreds and thousands -- of genes that were marked by chronic pain. They also discovered that chronic pain changes the marking of DNA in both the brain and in the T cells, a type of white blood cell with an important role in the immune system.
The study authors concluded: "We can now consider the implications that chronic pain might have on other systems in the body that we don't normally associate with pain. The findings highlight the devastating impact of chronic pain on other important parts of the body such as the immune system."
The hope is that these results could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating chronic pain in humans. Some of the genes that are marked by chronic pain could become targets for pain medications.