According to a new study, women may be facing a higher risk of feeling chronic pain since the condition has a different genetic basis in men and women. The study results were reported by Keira Johnston from the University of Glasgow and colleagues in a paper published in PLOS Genetics on April 8th, 2021.
Chronic Pain. Image Credit: tommaso79/Shutterstock.com
Chronic pain, a very common and potentially debilitating condition, affects more women compared to men. The researchers investigated this disparity by performing the largest ever genetic study of chronic pain that involves the study of men and women separately.
They explored genetic variants linked to chronic pain in 209,093 women and 178,556 men, and the results were compared. In women, 31 genes were found to be linked to chronic pain, whereas in men, 37 genes were associated.
A single gene was linked to chronic pain in both men and women. Moreover, the team analyzed whether the activity of these genes was triggered or suppressed in tissues identified to be related to chronic pain.
All but one of the 31 genes in women and all 37 genes in men were found to be active in the dorsal root ganglion, which is a cluster of nerves found in the spinal cord and transmitting pain signals from the body to the brain.
The findings of the new study support the previous study of the researchers and demonstrate that chronic pain develops mostly in the brain, and to a lower degree in the sites at which people may experience pain. In addition, the research proposes that sex differences in chronic pain possibly have at least a partial genetic basis.
They debate that studies into chronic pain, and prospectively other complex conditions, will possibly benefit from techniques that consider sex during the analysis. In general, these results fortify the understanding of chronic pain and could help develop innovative therapies for this hard-to-treat condition.
Our study highlights the importance of considering sex as a biological variable and showed subtle but interesting sex differences in the genetics of chronic pain.”
Keira Johnston, University of Glasgow
Johnston, K. J. A., et al. (2021) Sex-stratified genome-wide association study of multisite chronic pain in UK Biobank. PLOS Genetics. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1009428.