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New Study Reveals Relationship Of Chronic Pain To Stress-Related Protein

Update Date: Feb 12, 2016 03:03 PM EST

There is a new group of drugs that can help to treat mood disorders and even chronic pain, says a study by researchers at the University College London. A protein vital to shaping the stress response of the body also drives chronic pain.

By analysing genetically modified mice lacking the FKBP51 protein, scientists understood the factors important for stress regulation. Among humans, the FKBP5 gene is linked to the development of stress-related mental disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Humans with particular FKBP5 variations undergo a lot of physical pain after serious trauma or injury.

Mice without the FKBP51 proteins undergo less chronic pain due to nerve damage and joint arthritis.

"Inhibiting FKBP51 has a very powerful effect in mice with chronic pain," Maria Maiarù, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Not only does it block the pain from their injury without affecting their normal pain response, it also makes them more mobile. We did not find any negative side-effects."

The team tested SAFit2, an FKBP51-blocking compound created to treat mood disorders. They blocked FKBP51 in the spinal cord and enabled the scientists to test the effects on chronic pain, which was different from testing the effects on the brain. Hence, SAFit2 brought down chronic pain in mice, showing its potential as a "drug development candidate".

"The compound was designed to have positive effects on mental health, but we have discovered that it also has significant benefits for physical pain syndromes," said Sandrine Géranton, senior author of the study. "Who wouldn't want a treatment that relieves chronic pain while also making you less stressed? This was an experimental study with mice, but if this could be successfully translated into a treatment for patients, it would be a win-win."

An injury can stimulate "lasting epigenetic changes in the spinal cord's sensory circuits". This might lead on to more FKBP51 production that may influence the body's pain response. While the response may have made an evolutionary advantage earlier, it is now a debilitating biological process promoting pain.

The findings were published in Feb. 10,2016 issue of Science and Translational Medicine.

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