Differences in chronic pain in men and women are likely to be genetic, as suggested by the results of a genome-wide association study (GWAS) published in PLOS Genetics (April 8, 2021)..
Researchers searched 209,093 women and 178,556 men who were participants in the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource, for genetic variants associated with chronic pain.
They discovered 31 genes linked to chronic pain in women and 37 genes linked to chronic pain in men. Only one gene has been linked to chronic pain in both sexes.
The researchers also looked at whether these genes were upregulated or downregulated in tissues known to be associated with chronic pain. They reported that all 37 genes in men and all but one of the 31 genes in women were expressed in the spinal ganglion, a group of nerves in the spinal cord that carries pain signals from the body to the brain.
There was also enriched gene expression in sex-specific tissues. The researchers said their results suggested the existence of potential gender differences in chronic pain at the level of single nucleotide polymorphism, gene and transcript frequency, and that the data suggested theories of strong nervous and immune system involvement in chronic pain in both sexes supported.
Lead author Keira Johnston, PhD student at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, said, “Our study underscores the importance of considering sex as a biological variable and revealed subtle but interesting gender differences in the genetics of chronic pain.”
The researchers concluded: “These findings may influence the development of new treatment approaches in the future.”
Johnston KJA, Ward J, Ray PR, et al. Sex-stratified, genome-wide association study of chronic pain in multiple locations in the UK biobank. PLoS Genet 2021; 17: e1009428. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pgen.1009428