Pain management is a major issue for terminal illnesses such as cancer and for many other diseases. Traditional analgesics, such as morphine, are seriously flawed because they often provide insufficient relief and can cause unwanted side effects for those debilitated by persistent pain.
Although recent research has advanced the understanding of how the body perceives and reacts to pain, effective management of chronic pain remains elusive.
Results from a study published in today's issue of Cell may lead to a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of treatments for chronic pain.
Researchers from the United States and Canada report that a protein called DREAM (downstream regulatory element antagonistic modulator) appears to play a specific role in mediating pain responses.
Mice lacking DREAM were much less responsive than normal mice to a variety of painful stimuli. These included tests that caused acute pain, such as heat, pressure on the paw and injection of noxious substances, and also chronic inflammatory pain, which is more similar to the type of pain felt in, for example, arthritis.
The DREAM-deficient mice were normal in all other respects, suggesting that DREAM action is specific for pain pathways and may thus be a good target for therapeutic intervention.
Pharmacological studies showed that the reduction in pain perception in DREAM-deficient mice involves specific receptor molecules in the brain and spinal cord that are known to be important for regulation of pain perception.
DREAM acts to suppress the production of proteins involved in modulating pain perception, although precisely how this leads to control of pain perception is still unclear.
These results suggest that modulation of DREAM function could be used to alter the threshold of pain perception. This could be particularly useful for the treatment of chronic pain, where a permanent reduction in the ability to sense pain could produce a dramatic improvement in quality of life.
Overall, the results provide important new information about the mechanisms that underlie pain responses and highlight an exciting new target for the development of specific and effective pain therapies.
[Contact: Josef M. Penninger]