A comprehensive meta-analysis of data from the UK Biobank has found a diverse genetic basis that might be the reason behind chronic pain in women as compared to men. Although this is preliminary data, it is one of the biggest genetic studies that has observed chronic pain separately among men and women. Keira Johnson who is a population geneticist from the University of Glasgow in Scotland has said that the study reveals the value of reflecting on sex as a biological variable. The study has shown slight but motivating sex differences in the genetics of severe pain. Chronic pain issues are among the most common disabling, and expensive conditions in public health. Experts have said that chronic pain impacts more people in the US as compared to diseases such as heart issues diabetes and cancer all combined.
Still, it has only a fraction of the overall public health funding. Keira Johnson has said that in the studies as well, experts tend to overlook underlying sex differences. It is a huge and harmful lapse. The authors of the study have said that women are at higher risk of being diagnosed with chronic pain disorders as compared to men and yet 80 percent of studies on chronic pain issues have been done on male mice or male humans. It shows that health officials do not know much how and why women are dealing with such issues more as compared to men and which treatment might help them.
Experts have said that though there are many biological and psychological methods in this sex disparity, the new genetic analysis has shown that there is a genetic factor in the mix that might be responsible for this sex difference. They have compared gene variants linked to chronic pain in 209093 women and 178556 men from the UK Biobank in the study. Scientists have been able to find at least part of the answer. At the end of the study, experts have been able to find 31 genes linked with chronic pain in women and 37 genes linked with chronic pain in men without any overlap. However, the authors of the study have said that there might be some irregularities in their findings due to the low male sample size; however, the findings are fascinating. Experts have examined the expression of all these genetic variants in many tissues from mice and humans.
They have found that a wide range of these genetic variants has been active in a group of nerves in the spinal cord that is also known as the dorsal root ganglion, which passes messages from the body to the brain. The authors of the study clearly noted that many genes in the male-only or female-only genetic list have been linked to psychiatric issues or immune function except one gene that is known as DCC. This gene has been common in both men and women. This gene instructs a receptor that attaches to a protein that is essential for the growth of the nervous system, specifically the dopaminergic system. This gene has been linked to pain modulation in the body, said the experts.
The findings of the study suggest that the DCC gene might be a risk gene for the pathology of depression as well. The DCC mutations are prevalent in people who are dealing with a congenital mirror movement disorder that leads to replication of the movement of one side of the body on the other side of the body. The authors of the study are uncertain how the DCC gene is linked to chronic pain disorders. However, the findings agree with other theories that there is an involvement of a strong nervous system and immune function in chronic pain issues and that has been seen in both men and women. Experts believe that the findings can be used to come up with an effective treatment for such disorders in the future.
Experts have said that if chronic pain is linked to more strong immune function in women, the side effects of immune-targeting drugs may be quite different in men. At the same time, treatments such as chronic opioid use might show varying results in men and women. Experts have said that opioid badly impacts immune function, therefore, it might make things even worse for women who are dealing with chronic pain disorder. The findings of the study have been released in the journal PLOS Genetics.