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New insight into pain mechanisms

24 April 2012

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have made a discovery which could help the development of analgesic drugs able to treat nerve damage-related pain. The research is published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Current pain-killers work well for some types of pain, but are not very effective for easing the chronic pain associated with nerve damage. This type of pain is called neuropathic pain and it is associated with diseases like diabetic neuropathy or trauma. New findings from Professor John Wood and his team from University College London could help change this. They have identified the specific neurons in mice that are important for transmitting particular types of pain and that the transmission of neuropathic pain is dependent on a specific pain-signalling channel called Nav1.7.

Professor Wood and his team studied mice in which Nav1.7 is lost and were able to demonstrate that mice without the Nav1.7 channel did not suffer from neuropathic pain. This suggests it could be a target for drugs to treat neuropathic pain. The research also improved our understanding of the role of the Nav1.7 channel in the release of transmitters that cause pain sensations and suggested that new pain killers may work best if they can be directed both to the ends of the nerves in the skin and to the spinal cord.

While it was already known that the loss of this Nav1.7 channel in humans stops the experience of acute and inflammatory pain, such as that caused by a cut or a burn, or a long term condition like arthritis, this is the first research to show a connection with neuropathic pain. It provides important clues for the development of effective new Nav1.7-targeted pain killers.

Professor John Wood from UCL, said: "Chronic pain is debilitating, but not all pain is bad pain. For example, if we touch a scalding saucepan, acute pain makes us withdraw our hand. What we are trying to do is to find targets for drugs which mean chronic pain can be alleviated, while enabling our body to still respond to other types of acute pain that protect us. "

This research highlights the crucial role of fundamental bioscience in providing new knowledge to pave the way for the production of new pharmaceuticals.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The full paper can be downloaded from Nature Communications at: dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms1795.

About UCL

Founded in 1826, UCL (University College London) was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. Alumni include Marie Stopes, Francis Crick, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. UCL currently has over 13,000 undergraduate and 9,000 postgraduate students. Its annual income is over £700M. www.ucl.ac.uk

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .