Easing Pain with the Power of Epigenetics

Easing pain with epigenetics

Reducing pain effectively is a common goal of modern medicine, and new research suggests that epigenetics might lead us closer to finding out how to ease pain. People who suffer from serious discomfort, such as those who have experienced severe burns, may someday be able to epigenetically ease their pain and reduce neural activation caused by painful stimuli.

“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,” said Jose Vicente Torres Pérez, a researcher from Imperial College in London who worked on a recently published pain study.

In the study, the group of researchers discovered that blocking a histone modification may reduce pain. They focused on an epigenetic mechanism known as histone phosphorylation, which can regulate gene expression by chromatin remodeling, or adjusting how tightly wound histones are around DNA.

Specifically, they found that phosphorylation of serine 10 (S10) in histone 3 (H3), or p-S10H3, affects the pain processing in superficial spinal dorsal horn neurons. This area is particularly crucial to long-term pain because it forms a “gateway” of nociceptive information and is important for sensitization.

By blocking this epigenetic mark and switching off the activity of the neurons involved, the researchers believe this may offer promise as a new pain relief therapy. “We observed the effect after using various animal pain models: inducing burns, applying capsaicin or electrical nerve stimulation,” explained Torres Pérez.

Cell activation markers most used are pERK1/2 and c-Fos, but they each have their limitations. Based on this recent study, p-S10H3 is a new pain marker in neurons located on the spinal cord. The changes that occur as a result of this histone phosphorylation mark are fundamental to the development of pain.

Recent advancements have improved the survival rates of burn victims, but mitigating the pain they suffer has been difficult. Understanding the molecular mechanisms in neurons that are central to processing pain is of the utmost importance in moving forward with methods of treatment, and utilizing this new evidence could help progress us towards developing novel therapies.


Source: Torres-Pérez, J.V. et al. (2017). Phosphorylated Histone 3 at Serine 10 Identifies Activated Spinal Neurons and Contributes to the Development of Tissue Injury-Associated Pain. Scientific Reports, 7: 41221

Reference: Fuentes, V. How to stop pain from serious burns using epigenetics. Scientific News Service (SINC). 25 Jan 2017. Web.

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About Bailey Kirkpatrick 164 Articles
Bailey Kirkpatrick is a science writer with a background in epigenetics and psychology with a passion for conveying scientific concepts to the wider community. She enjoys speculating about the implications of epigenetics and how it might impact our perception of wellbeing and the development of novel preventative strategies. When she’s not combing through research articles, she also enjoys discovering new foods, taking nighttime strolls, and discussing current events over a barrel-aged sour beer or cold-brewed coffee.


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