APR 30, 2019 06:06 PM PDT

Pain is biologically different for women and men: drugs could be too

WRITTEN BY: Nina Lichtenberg

Women and men have biologically different pathways for chronic pain. Research published in the journal Brain revealed that different genes and pain signaling pathways were active in men and women with neuropathic pain - a chronic condition with symptoms including numbness in feet or hands, persistent sharp or burning pain, and extreme sensitivity to touch.

In the study, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health Science Center at Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine examined nerve cells located at the base of the spine, called dorsal root ganglia (DRG), removed from eight female and 18 male cancer patients undergoing surgery. Then, researchers categorized gene expression patterns of these cells by sex and pain state. By using RNA sequencing, a cutting-edge approach to gene sequencing, the research team identified certain genes and pain pathways to potentially target with pain-relieving drugs.

Learn more about how the DRG transmit pain signals:

Although there is no way to extract and study DRG from most pain patients, researchers believe there may be proxy cells, such as immune cells, that have the same genetic markers. These cells can be more easily extracted from patients. 

According to Dr. Ted Price, a senior author of the paper, the study revealed a "striking" difference in how chronic pain occurs between sexes. For example, in men with neuropathic pain, immune system cells were most active. In women, neuropeptides, or chemicals released by nerve cells, were abundant.

Price and his colleagues stress that this finding needs further study. Nevertheless, it suggests that a new migraine drug that targets a neuropeptide called CGRP and its receptor might effectively treat chronic pain in women. In mice, Price has shown that this type of drug does not work in males, but blocks pain in females. "CGRP is a key player in lots of chronic pain in women, not just migraine," he says.

So, what do these findings mean for those suffering from chronic pain? Currently, clinical trials and drug manufacturers often do not distinguish between the sexes. Indeed, tailoring drugs to men or women would revolutionize medicine, especially considering that it took decades for women (and female animals) to be included in basic preclinical and clinical research. In 1993, Congress mandated the inclusion of women in clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health. This study is seminal because it could pave the way for the recognition of sex-specific pain therapies as effective, and necessary.

Price is hopeful that this research will lead to better therapeutics and preclinical research. "I think that 10 years from now, when I look back at how papers I've published have had an impact, this one will stick out," he said. "I hope by then that we are designing clinical trials better considering sex as a biological variable, and that we understand how chronic pain is driven differently in men and women."

Sources: WIRED, ScienceDaily, Nature

About the Author
You May Also Like
JAN 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JAN 17, 2020
Magic Mushrooms Pass First Clinical Trial Against Depression
With the efficacy of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac increasingly coming under question, the search for new pharmaceutical treatment...
JAN 17, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 17, 2020
Midlife Obesity, not Diet, Increases Dementia Risk
A new study on over 1 milion women in the UK has found that women who are obese during their 50’s are at a higher risk than women with healthier phys...
JAN 17, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 17, 2020
Are Popular Gyms Promoting Indoor Tanning?
You might assume that by now, most humans are aware of the dangers of indoor tanning beds. However, many popular gyms include tanning beds as a perk of mem...
JAN 17, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 17, 2020
La Niña is associated with higher incidence of life-threatening diarrhea
Findings published recently in the journal Nature Communications suggest that La Niña climate conditions are linked to an increase in the incidence ...
JAN 17, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 17, 2020
Scientists Discover Cannabinoid 30 Times Stronger than THC
Scientists from Italy have identified a new cannabinoid in the glands of the Cannabis plant, known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THCP), that may be at least 30 ...
JAN 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JAN 17, 2020
Vaccine Against Alzheimer's to Hit Clinical Trials
Currently Alzheimer’s disease is thought to affect around 50 million people around the world, with this figure doubling every year. Currently with no...
Loading Comments...