German Neuroscientist Makes Discovery in Protein Nav1.7
Published recently within the first week of the New Year, a new study in Science Signaling has suggested a new way of achieving pain management. Studying a protein in the body called Nav1.7, scientists have found that there is a protein that rests on pain-sensing nerves and, in the past, has been known for sending electrical-signals to the brain when it senses pain.
This new study, led by Tim Hucho, a neuroscientist at the University of Hospital Cologne in Germany, has found that the protein Nav1.7 also releases pain-relieving molecules upon being triggered. This finding has led to the solving of a mystery that has puzzled many pharmaceutical doctors and researchers in which people with a rare mutation of the Nav1.7 protein feel no pain at all. Conducting experiments on rodent cells, scientists have discovered that by targeting Nav1.7, they might be able to reduce the use of opiate as well as its associated side-effects.
Scientists tested an opiate-blocker naloxone, a pain-relieving opioid, usually naturally released by the body, on a woman with one of these rare mutations to her Nav1.7 protein. She had experienced pain for the first time. The Nav1.7 protein senses pain by sending electrical signals, but this woman’s protein was being influenced by a non-electrical process which increased the production of opioids in her body.
Essentially, when the pain-promoting function of the protein is reduced, the pain-relieving side increases drastically. By giving the woman a pain-reliever, she was able to feel pain.
“It turned the whole field of opioids upside down,” Hucho said.
Claiming that rather than trying to reduce one function more than the other, Hucho feels that creating a balance will help advance studies regarding the relief of pain. The experimental designs furthering this study revolve around studying Nav1.7 cells in rodents and findings have come to show that the protein Nav1.7 acts as an axis point between the functions of pain-relief and pain-promoting.
Additional findings have concluded that when giving opiates for pain, the body adapts to it quickly and increased dosage is needed to continue its effects. The goal is to create a balance between opiates given to a patient and the natural opioids produced within the body already. Hucho and his team are satisfied with their findings as of now but are anxious to see what new research their findings will help advance in regards to treating human pain.