Researchers at NYU College of Dentistry’s Pain Research Center have developed a groundbreaking gene therapy that aims to treat chronic pain by indirectly managing a specific sodium ion channel called NaV1.7.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Chronic pain affects around a third of the U.S. population, and scientists have been on the hunt for safe and effective pain management alternatives to opioids.
Sodium ion channels, crucial for nerve cells to communicate, play a significant role in the generation and transmission of pain.
Particularly, the NaV1.7 sodium ion channel has been identified as a promising target for treating pain due to its role in individuals with rare genetic pain disorders.
Traditional attempts at pain treatment have tried to selectively block NaV1.7 but have had limited success.
The NYU team, led by Rajesh Khanna, director of the NYU Pain Research Center, took a different approach by targeting the regulation of NaV1.7 using a protein called CRMP2.
This protein interacts with the sodium ion channel to modulate its activity.
The researchers discovered the precise region within NaV1.7 where CRMP2 binds to control its activity. This region is specific to NaV1.7, as CRMP2 does not readily bind to other sodium ion channels.
To limit the interaction between CRMP2 and NaV1.7, a peptide was created from the region where CRMP2 binds to NaV1.7 and inserted into an adeno-associated virus, a common method used in gene therapy, to deliver it to neurons and inhibit NaV1.7.
The engineered virus was administered to mice experiencing pain, including sensitivity to touch, heat, or cold, as well as peripheral neuropathy resulting from chemotherapy.
The researchers found that the mice’s pain was reversed after a week to ten days.
These findings, replicated across multiple species including rodents, primates, and human cells, open up exciting possibilities for the treatment of chronic pain in humans.
“Our long-term goal is to develop a gene therapy that patients could receive to better treat these painful conditions and improve their quality of life,” said Khanna.
More research is needed to advance this approach, but the results represent a significant stride in the understanding and potential treatment of chronic pain.
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The study was published in PNAS.
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