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Summary: Scientists identified a gene mutation that disrupts the perception of pain. The gene, SCN11A, encodes for a voltage-gated sodium ion channel expressed in sensory neurons that relay pain information to the central nervous system. A missense mutation of this gene causes the channel to be excessively active at resting voltages which causes the channel to be constantly depolarized and thus unable to produce an action potential that would relay pain information (In other words, overactivity of SCN11A prevents the buildup of charge necessary for signal transmission.). Scientists are now looking at pain killer research in a different way – a drug that causes SCN11A to be overactive could very effectively reduce pain. Mouse studies were performed to confirm findings.

Think About:

1. How will pharmaceutical companies react to this research?
2. Those with mutated SCN11A genes have congenital analgesia, which means that they can injure themselves because they may not realize they are in pain. How will this issue be approached by those who want to make drugs affecting SCN11A?
3. How can such a drug be abused and what are the dangers?
4. What are the applications of such a drug? Would it be over the counter? For surgical purposes?

Original Articles, For More Information: 
– Journal Article: http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ng.2767.html
– News Article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24196-girl-who-feels-no-pain-could-inspire-new-painkillers.html#.Uji1nsakpzQ

Learn About Action Potentials (it’s on the MCAT anyway):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0NpTdge3aw
– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoi7U7SbIqU

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