Chronic pain changes everything from finances to relationships, and now new research from McGill University shows may reprogram the way genes work in the immune system.
“We found that chronic pain changes the way DNA is marked not only in the brain but also in T cells, a type of white blood cell essential for immunity,” said Moshe Szyf, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill in a press release. “Our findings highlight the devastating impact of chronic pain on other important parts of the body such as the immune system.”
Researchers analyzed DNA in the brain and white blood cells of rats, using a chemical known as a methyl group.
“Methyl marks are important for regulating how these genes function,” said study co-author Laura Stone, a researcher in the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain.
They were surprised by the number of genes marked by chronic pain, saying that hundreds to thousands of different genes were changed.
“We can now consider the implications that chronic pain might have on other systems in the body that we don’t normally associate with pain,” Szyf added.
The following results were observed in the study:
- There is a correlation between pain intensity and gene DNA methylation level in the prefrontal cortex.
- Peripheral nerve injury is associated with DNA methylation changes in T cells.
- Overlapping DNA methylation changes in prefrontal cortex and T cells.
- DNA methylation states in T-cells are “predictors” of chronic pain.
The McGill researchers believe the new findings could advance the understanding of chronic pain, which could lead to new methods of diagnosing and treating chronic pain in humans. They also note that the findings could result in opening new directions in developing pain medicines that target the genes marked by chronic pain.
Their study, Overlapping signatures of chronic pain in the DNA methylation landscape of prefrontal cortex and peripheral T cells was published in the January issue of the journal Scientific Reports.