How to stop pain from serious burns using epigenetics

February 2, 2017, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT)
The unpleasant sensation sparked by the nervous system when confronted with a harmful stimulus can be alleviated by blocking a genetic marker that switches off the activity of the neurons involved. Jose Vicente Torres Pérez, a Spanish researcher who works at Imperial College in London, has trialled this innovative pain relief therapy on mice with serious burns. The aim is to use his findings to help burn victims. Credit: Jose Vicente Torres Pérez

Pain caused by harmful stimuli can be alleviated by blocking a genetic marker that switches off the activity of the neurons involved. Jose Vicente Torres Pérez, a Spanish researcher who works at Imperial College in London, has trialled this innovative pain relief therapy on mice with serious burns. The aim is to use his findings to help burn victims.

One of the outstanding issues in modern medicine is treating pain effectively. Torres set out to curb the suffering of people with serious burns. He found that blocking a new can reduce the neural activation caused by painful stimuli. Torres, the only Spanish researcher participating in the study published today in the journal Scientific Reports, says, "The cell activation markers most used today are pERK1/2 and c-Fos, but both have their limitations."

The development and persistence of pain depends on plastic changes to the neurons that process information on harmful stimuli, which are those of the dorsal . These plastic changes are largely regulated by epigenetic mechanisms, i.e. chemical changes that alter the expression of the genes, but not their sequence, such as post-translational modifications of histones. "Seeking new pain markers continues to be very important in the field of nociception, which analyses the subjective experience of pain, and a need that has not yet been met," adds Torres Pérez.

New pain relief therapy

Technically, the team has demonstrated in mice that a population of superficial neurons in the spinal cord controls an epigenetic marker known as pS10H3. "We observed the effect after using various animal pain models: inducing burns, applying capsaicin or electrical nerve stimulation," explains Torres Pérez. Therefore, the authors believe that if this activation is blocked, they will achieve a new pain relief therapy.

For the Spanish researcher, "Marker pS10H3 is a new marker of pain processing in neurons on the spinal cord, and the changes it causes are fundamental to normal pain development, which opens up new therapeutic possibilities."

Application to burn victims

Recent advances have significantly increased the survival rates of burn victims, but little has been achieved to alleviate the pain caused by burn damage. According to the authors, advances that help to decipher the molecular mechanisms produced in neurons that are key to processing pain—such as the discovery of this alteration—will help to find new therapeutic strategies.

"We propose that blocking this epigenetic modification could be a new strategy to try to reduce or completely eliminate the after these processes," Torres Pérez concludes.

Explore further: Optimized treatment relieves pain in chronic pancreatitis

More information: Jose Vicente Torres-Pérez et al. Phosphorylated Histone 3 at Serine 10 Identifies Activated Spinal Neurons and Contributes to the Development of Tissue Injury-Associated Pain, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/srep41221

Related Stories

Optimized treatment relieves pain in chronic pancreatitis

January 10, 2017
(HealthDay)—For most patients with chronic pancreatitis (CP), optimized medical and interventional treatment is associated with significant pain relief, according to a study published online Jan. 4 in the Journal of Gastroenterology ...

Spinal cord stimulation is a safe, effective drug-free treatment for chronic pain

July 14, 2016
Chronic pain affects up to 20% of people in developed countries, and represents not only a profound impact on individuals and their families but also a sizeable burden on employers, health care systems, and society in general. ...

New research reveals most pain-sensing nerves in the body specialized to respond to specific sensations

November 11, 2016
Many pain-sensing nerves in the body are thought to respond to all types of 'painful events', but new UCL research in mice reveals that in fact most are specialised to respond to specific types such as heat, cold or mechanical ...

Spinal cord neurons that control pain and itch

March 19, 2015
The spinal cord transmits pain signals to the brain, where they are consciously perceived. But not all the impulses arrive at their destination: Certain neurons act as checkpoints and determine whether a pain signal is relayed ...

Scientists chart spinal circuitry responsible for chronic pain

December 5, 2014
Pain typically has a clear cause–but not always. When a person touches something hot or bumps into a sharp object, it's no surprise that it hurts. But for people with certain chronic pain disorders, including fibromyalgia ...

Pain-initiating function of glial cells identified for the first time

November 11, 2016
The sensation of pain occurs when neural pathways conduct excitation generated by tissue damage to the spinal cord, where the nociceptive information is extensively pre-processed. From there, the information is transmitted ...

Recommended for you

Brainwaves show how exercising to music bends your mind

February 18, 2018
Headphones are a standard sight in gyms and we've long known research shows listening to tunes can be a game-changer for your run or workout.

To sleep, perchance to forget

February 17, 2018
The debate in sleep science has gone on for a generation. People and other animals sicken and die if they are deprived of sleep, but why is sleep so essential?

Lab-grown human cerebellar cells yield clues to autism

February 16, 2018
Increasing evidence has linked autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with dysfunction of the brain's cerebellum, but the details have been unclear. In a new study, researchers at Boston Children's Hospital used stem cell technology ...

Fragile X syndrome neurons can be restored, study shows

February 16, 2018
Fragile X syndrome is the most frequent cause of intellectual disability in males, affecting one out of every 3,600 boys born. The syndrome can also cause autistic traits, such as social and communication deficits, as well ...

Brain-machine interface study suggests how brains prepare for action

February 16, 2018
Somewhere right now in Pyeongchang, South Korea, an Olympic skier is thinking through the twists and spins she'll make in the aerial competition, a speed skater is visualizing how he'll sneak past a competitor on the inside ...

Humans blink strategically in response to environmental demands

February 16, 2018
If a brief event in our surroundings is about to happen, it is probably better not to blink during that moment. A team of researchers at the Centre for Cognitive Science from Technische Universität Darmstadt published a ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.