A gene responsible for regulating chronic pain, HCN2, has been identified by scientists at Cambridge University. They believe their discovery should help drug researchers in their search for more effective pain-killing medicines.
This discovery could help in the development of new drugs to help block the protein produced by the gene. Pain linked to nerve damage, neuropathic pain, is very difficult to control with the drugs currently available. Peter McNaughton of Cambridge’s pharmacology department led the study and said, “Our research lays the groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain by blocking HCN2.”
Scientists have known about the existence of this gene for several years, but had not fully understood its role in regulating pain. The researchers engineered the removal of the HCN2 gene from pain-sensitive nerve endings and then used electrical stimuli on these nerves in lab dishes to see how the nerves had been changed by the removal of HCN2. The study then focused on genetically modified mice. By studying how the mice reacted to different types of painful stimuli, scientists were able to show that deleting the HCN2 gene took away neuropathic pain.
The study also determined that the HCN2 gene can be manipulated without affecting normal acute pain–such as accidentally cutting yourself. McNaughton said, “What is exciting about the work on the HCN2 gene is that removing it–or blocking it pharmacologically–eliminates neuropathic pain without affecting normal acute pain. This study could be very valuable clinically because normal pain sensation is essential for avoiding accidental damage.”
Neuropathic pain is a condition which affects an estimated 280 million people worldwide. It is seen in patients suffering from diabetes and as a painful after-effect of shingles and of chemotherapy in cancer patients. Sufferers of lower back pain and other chronic painful conditions also experience neuropathic pain.

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