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A new study, reported in Human Molecular Genetics (January 2005), has identified 3 variations of a gene called COMT. The gene influences sensitivity to pain and the risk of developing a chronic pain condition. The study included 202 healthy women who underwent an analysis of COMT variants and pain sensitivity. The participants were followed for 3 years to assess the development of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
The results of the study showed that the presence of a "low pain sensitivity" variant dramatically lowered the risk of TMD. The researchers are confident that this finding will apply to other chronic pain conditions as well. For the study, the researchers identified "low," "average," and "high pain sensitivity" variants of the COMT gene. The different combinations of these variants forecast how sensitive the participant was to painful stimuli in the lab. The researchers reported that the COMT variant also influenced the risk of TMD. Specifically, the presence of the low pain sensitivity variant lowered the risk by 2.3-fold.
"This is the first demonstration that a genetic variation influences both human pain perception and the risk for developing a chronic pain condition," said lead investigator Luda Diatchenko, PhD.