Scientists discover possible genetic route to killing pain

With opioid painkiller abuse reaching near-epidemic proportions, the search is on for better drugs that can take care of pain without the risk of addiction. Geneticists in Canada accidentally stumbled on a possible genetic route to solve the problem. It started when researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital and CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital started working with patients who suffer from a rare disease that causes sensory organs to degenerate. The genetic mutations responsible for the disease could be key to disrupting pain for everybody else.

Dr. Jean-Baptiste Rivière, lead author of a paper appearing in the American Journal of Human Genetics, writes about his team's research into an incurable disease known as "hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type II," in which patients lose the sensation of heat, touch and pain. Rivière, working with the University of Montreal's Dr. Guy Rouleau, found the genetic basis for the disease.

"After showing that the WNK1/HSN2 protein interacts with the KIF1A gene, we were able to go back to the cohort of patients and identify mutations of the KIF1A gene," Rivière said in a release. "The study results will be of immediate benefit to HSAN2 patients, as the identification of this new gene has made it possible to provide valuable genetic testing to assess the risk or the cause of the disease in individuals at risk or presenting the disease."

Now that it is known which genes, when mutated, can lead to loss of sensation, this presents an opportunity to use the knowledge gained about KIF1A to develop new painkilling drugs. "Further research could help us to identify other proteins that are transported by KIF1A or that interact with it, and that will help to better refine our understanding of pain mechanisms," researcher Patrick Dion, who also contributed to the findings, said in the release.

- take a look at the University of Montreal release
- and the abstract in the American Journal of Human Genetics