A new approach to pain control may be on the horizon now that researchers at U of T, the Hospital for Sick Children and the Amgen Institute have discovered a genetic mechanism involved in pain modulation. In a study published in the journal Cell, genetically engineered mice lacking a gene called DREAM (downstream regulatory element antagonistic modulator) showed a dramatic loss in pain sensitivity compared with mice with the gene. “There’s great interest in this finding because it’s so different from the traditional approaches researchers have been taking to pain management,” says Prof. Michael Salter, the study’s co-author and director of the U of T Centre for the Study of Pain. The DREAM gene produces dynorphin – a chemical produced in response to pain or stress. Researchers were interested in determining DREAM’s actual physiological function, and found that mice without DREAM experienced increased dynorphin levels and decreased sensitivity to acute, inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Current approaches to pain management focus on drugs such as morphine or aspirin, and this research could lead to a new option. “Researchers will be looking for drugs that could block the ability of DREAM to bind to DNA or simply prevent the production of DREAM,” says Salter. Grad student Mary Cheng and post-doctoral fellow Graham Pitcher worked in the Amgen Institute lab of principal investigator Prof. Josef Penninger.
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