Pain Sensitivity

Pain is a subjective and complex sensation; it can be throbbing, intense, slight or even burn. Knowing how to distinguish these different forms is crucial for its treatment since it hints at the cause of the pain and where it is coming from. Pain can be classified as nociceptive pain (inflammatory), neuropathic (nerve related origin), psychogenic (associated with psychologicalfactors) according to its cause and location.

Each person perceives pain differently. It is also important to note that there is a perceptible difference in pain sensitivity between men and women. Contrary to what is believed, women are usually more sensitive to pain mainly because of their sexual hormones and cultural and social influence.

Estrogens influence pain sensitivity in women because they increase the levels of alertness and activity in the nervous system and therefore, pain transmission. In addition, men have the advantage of the male sexual hormone, testosterone, which reduces sensitivity to pain.

A new study carried out by researchers at King College of London showed that pain sensitivity could be altered by a person’s life style and surroundings. Their research is based on the discovery that pain sensitivity, previously considered inflexible, can change as a result of a gene “switching off” or “switching on”, that is, of the expression of the genes according to life style and environmental factors in a process known as epigenetics, in charge of the chemical alteration of the genes.

This research has been published in the magazine “Nature Communications” and has important implications for understanding pain sensitivity and could lead to new treatments directed towards “turning off” certain genes epigenetically.

Gene or region studied

  • SCN9A
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