June 14, 2024

Research Reveals Gender Differences in Chronic Pain Development

A recent study conducted by the University of Alberta suggests that there are differences in the way males and females develop and resolve chronic pain. This groundbreaking research points to potential pathways for targeted treatments in humans.

The study, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, focused on mice with chronic pain resulting from inflammation. The researchers discovered that female mice were more sensitive to the effects of immune cells called macrophages. Additionally, they identified an X chromosome-linked receptor that plays a critical role in resolving both acute and chronic inflammation in both sexes.

Principal investigator, Bradley Kerr, explains, “We’re always interested in understanding the triggers for pain, but in this study, we went up the next step to ask how pain resolves to determine how these immune cells are involved.” Kerr, who is a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine, believes that the composition of immune cells may influence the development of chronic pain.

Chronic pain, defined as pain lasting for three months or longer, affects approximately 20% of Canadians, with a higher prevalence among women. Autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, which can lead to chronic pain, also disproportionately affect women. Kerr notes that the inclusion of both male and female mouse models in pain studies has only become a standard research question in recent years.

Kerr’s team focused on understanding the causes of chronic pain to find effective treatments. They discovered that pain at the onset of an illness or after an injury can serve a protective purpose, alerting individuals to rest and heal. However, understanding the origins and resolution of pain that no longer serves a purpose is crucial.

The researchers examined pain pathways in mouse models using various methods. Previous studies revealed that female mice with multiple sclerosis have two to three times more of the pain receptor Tlr7 than males. Deleting Tlr7 in these mice demonstrated that pain did not resolve properly. In contrast, when mice with chronic pain were treated with an antiviral medication known to stimulate Tlr7 artificially, the pain resolved three to five days sooner than without treatment. Tlr7 is an immune system receptor that activates an antiviral response when it detects a virus in the body, leading to feelings of soreness and aches.

These findings highlight the importance of understanding gender differences in chronic pain and its resolution. By investigating the underlying mechanisms, researchers have taken a step closer to developing targeted treatments for chronic pain in both males and females. As further research is conducted, these findings could potentially lead to significant advancements in pain management.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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