Pain is such a pain, don't you think?
But the days of one of the defining experiences of being human could soon be numbered, with the news that scientists have located a gene which could be responsible for our ability to feel pain - and we could, therefore, be able to turn it off.
A study by an international research team from Medical University of Vienna, the University of Munich and the University of Cambridge, focused on studying two unrelated children with a rare and unusual disease: they had not been able to feel any pain since birth. Scientists analysed all sections of their genetic material and, in both cases, identified mutations in gene PRDM12. Similar mutations were then discovered in further patients with congenital analgesia and other related pain perception disorders, proving that this was, indeed the gene responsible.
The scientists worked with the developmental biologists Tatsuo Michiue and Shinya Matsukawa from the University of Tokyo to investigate the function of PRDM12 in tadpoles and discovered that the loss of the gene led to the defective development of nerve cells (neurons), which are necessary for the the brain to receive pain signals from the body. The gene itself seemingly controls other as-yet-unidentified genes, which then control the development of the relevant cells and tissue. The study has been published in the latest issue of Nature Genetics.
However, before we get too excited: the ability to 'turn off' pain is not necessarily a great idea. Sufferers of the condition are often unable to tell when they have picked up an injury which is thus left untreated. This can often lead to serious problems, such as when undetected bone fractures are left to worsen and do not heal well. In some cases this can prove fatal - since patients never feel pain, they can lack the understanding of the risks of some behaviour. Nonetheless, it would surely be nice to at least be able to turn it down a bit when necessary - maybe they could just fit a dimmer switch on the gene?
"Further investigations will show what significance the findings regarding PRDM12 have for pain research and the development of new pain medication," says Michaela Auer-Grumbach, of the Medical University of Vienna - so, unsurprisingly, the scientists aren't getting too carried away just yet.
[via Science Daily]