Where pain comes from

A decade ago, science isolated the rare genetic mutation that renders a person able to feel touch but unable to feel pain. But using drugs to replicate the condition as a way to manage chronic pain has proven ineffective. So, scientists at University College London engineered mice that carried the human version of the genetic defect and searched for ways to kill pain without using the conventional treatment — high-dose, addictive, mind-deadening opioids.

Studying the mice, researchers learned that combining far lower doses of opioids with a compound that blocks transmission of a biochemical along Nav 1.7, a biological communication channel that transmits signals using sodium, did the trick. By blocking messages along Nav 1.7, scientists blocked a significant number of the “I’m in pain” messages. Low-dose opioids do the rest.

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