Everyone with a nasty roommate tells us that a difficult living situation can change you in many ways.
Imagine that instead of just eating your food in the fridge, that annoying roommate can also cause genetic changes designed to create the & # 39; future you & # 39; more tolerant of their behavior.
Does it sound too good to be true? Well, this is exactly what happened in the case of some African rodent species that live in harsh conditions characterized by acidic air, stinging insects, and sharp food sources.
I am a behavioral geneticist who investigates how genes and the environment interact to determine the risk of chronic pain.
My goal is to use that knowledge to develop new therapies to better treat pain without needing opioids.
I was struck by this work with naked mole rats because these beings have become insensitive to very specific types of painful stimuli, explains researcher Erin Young
Opioids are a powerful tool to treat pain, especially acute pain, but they do not focus precisely on a specific pain mechanism or signal.
Instead, opioids work primarily to reduce the ability of cells to transmit pain messages without actually turning off the message itself.
I was struck by this work with naked mole rats because these beings have become insensitive to very specific types of painful stimuli.
This happens due to subtle differences in gene activity and protein structure, rather than deletions or mutations of genes.
It is increasingly accepted that such differences in gene activity can explain individual differences in human pain sensitivity and risk for the development of chronic pain.
More importantly, if pain researchers understand these processes in these rodents and translate this work into humans, this would naturally lead to innovative methods for safe and effective pain relief.
Smelly caves drive the evolution of pain tolerance
Naked mole rats, Heterocephalus glazing, originally come from East Africa and live in densely populated underground caves.
In these caves, the exhaled carbon dioxide levels are so high that the air becomes so acidic that it would cause a painful burning sensation in the nose, eyes and uncovered skin of most mammals.
But the naked mole rat is completely insensitive to these high acid conditions, making it extremely tolerant of all that solidarity.
What's more, these rodents are also insensitive to capsaicin, the chemical that is responsible for the burning pain of chili peppers.
New research led by Gary Lewin, a sensory system physiologist in Berlin, Germany, reveals that naked mole rats are not the only African rodents that have developed to tolerate difficult living conditions.
By comparing nine closely related African rodent species, the Lewin team demonstrated that four were completely insensitive to at least one of the three painful substances: acid, capsaicin or AITC, which is the active ingredient in mustard oil.
All these stimuli cause different types of pain. The acid is the one that mimics the high carbon dioxide in the cave.
The capsaicin and mustard oil (AITC) – which cause a burning pain – are found in typical foods that the naked moles eat. But each causes pain through a different biochemical route.
Consequences for the opioid crisis
The evidence points to pain insensitivity to acid, capsaicin and AITC that all evolve separately in related rodent species.
But in the end, these adjustments help these rodents to survive and thrive in their hot, dark and acidic environment.
The evidence points to pain insensitivity to acid, capsaicin and AITC that all evolve separately in related rodent species. The Georychus mole rat is a species that is insensitive to pain caused by acid
Without major changes in the structure and function of the pain-sensitive route in their bodies, these rodents have developed various ways to reduce their sensitivity to ordinary painful stimuli they encounter every day.
In short, these related species of rodents found more than one way to become Uber tolerant of their living conditions and their roommates.
I believe that understanding the molecular changes that make the naked mole rat and its relatives resistant to certain types of pain has implications that go well beyond the roommate market for rodents.
They refer directly to new therapeutic strategies that can be developed to treat human pain by selectively engaging or blocking processes involved in specific types of pain sensitivity.
With the dueling epidemics of chronic pain and the opioid crisis, precision medical alternatives offer hope for people with difficult-to-manage pain due to the & # 39; cause & # 39; of the pain to attack and a lower risk of side effects, including abuse, abuse and addiction.
WHY ARE SCIENTISTS INTERESTED IN THE NAKED Mole RAT?
With wrinkled skin and walrus-like teeth, naked moles will never win beauty contests.
Yet these beings living underground in the deserts of East Africa are one of the medical wonders of the natural world.
If a person had the same lifespan as a naked mole rat, in proportion to size, they would live a maximum of 600 years.
Not only are they resistant to cancer, they also have a very low respiratory and metabolic rate, which means that they use oxygen sparingly.
Scientists have made considerable effort to follow the genome of the creatures in an effort to understand its secrets.
The machines that translate their DNA into the functioning molecules in the cells, proteins, have also been found to be very accurate.
This means that their proteins contain few errors compared to other mammals, and that means they are less likely to malfunction.
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