Sensitivity to pain can change over lifetime
A new study, published in Nature Communications, concludes that pain sensitivity is controlled by genes, and the regulation of these genes may be able to change a person’s pain threshold over time.
Researchers from King’s College in London tested 25 sets of identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) on their sensitivity to pain by placing a heat probe on their arms. When the heat became too much to handle, the participants pushed a button.
Through DNA sequencing, researchers mapped out the twins’ genomes in comparison to 50 random individuals. One twin exhibited chemical changes in nine genes associated with pain sensitivity, but these changes were not found in the other twin. The researches explained how this can happen by switching certain genes “on” and “off,” through a process known as epigenetic switching. Thus, these chemical changes serve as a “thermostat” for setting a person’s pain threshold.
By focusing on epigenetic switching, researchers hope to create new lifestyle treatments and medications for acute or chronic pain.