Scientists are learning more and more about people who do not feel pain. Currently, they have identified several genetic indicators for people who do not experience any sensations typically associated with physical pain. One such mutation occurs in the PRDM12 gene. It leads to a malformation of nerve cells, which are the transmitters of physical sensations to the brain. A different genetic mutation, located on the SCN9A gene, inhibits the proper formation of the sodium channels used by neurons to communicate and conduct pain.
Interestingly, scientists have found that, just because there’s no pain sensation, the body may have a way of reacting regardless. In one study published in Nature Communications, scientists used mice with these genetic mutations and exposed them to extreme hot and cold conditions. The mice showed no physical response, but scientists were able to identify high levels of enkephalins, a natural opioid produced by the body. The researchers posited that if people with such genetic mutations did not experience a release of opioids, maybe they would feel pain. The team administered naloxone, a medication typically used to treat opioid overdose, to a woman with the PRDM12 genetic condition. The subject did indeed report a feeling of pain-the first time she had ever felt such a sensation.
Transcriptional regulator PRDM12 is essential for human pain perception (Nature)
“Pain perception has evolved as a warning mechanism to alert organisms to tissue damage and dangerous environments. In humans, however, undesirable, excessive or chronic pain is a common and major societal burden for which available medical treatments are currently suboptimal”
Why do we experience physical pain? (Gizmodo)
“There’s no doubt about it: Pain sucks. We all hate it – and some people go to immense lengths to try and get rid of chronic pain. And yet, it’s a constant part of human experience. But why do people feel physical pain? How does it even work? And does everybody feel pain the same way?”