Sensory neurons: new information for more effective chronic pain treatments

A team of researchers fromUniversity of Texas did Center for Advanced Pain Studies (CAPS) in Dallasmapped i human sensory neurons highlighting the differences with animal nerve cells, providing fundamental information for the development of better performing therapies in the treatment of chronic pain.


The results of the Research have been published in the scientific journal Science Translational Medicine.

Human sensory neurons: study them thoroughly in order to effectively treat chronic pain

Doctor Ted Price BS’97, together with Ashbel Smith Professor of neuroscience at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) and director of CAPSled a team that thoroughly studied the origins of how pain arises from nociceptors, pain-sensitive sensory neurons, in the neurons of human dorsal root ganglia (DRG).

Juvenile fibromyalgia, sensory neurons


Since themRNA is a single-stranded copy of a gene that can be translated into proteins, the research results offer neuroscientists a more detailed understanding of which genes are expressed in DRG neurons. The study also reinforces the value of studying human tissue, as opposed to animal cells, in finding treatments for pain.

DRG neurons are specialized nerve cells clustered near the base of the spine. Previously, very few studies have been performed on human sensory neurons due to the scarcity of their availability for research: “We are one of the few groups in the country with access to human donor DRG tissue acquired specifically for research”, he has declared Stephanie Shiersresearcher in neuroscience and first author of the article.

Previous research by Shiers had shown in general terms that there are significant differences between nociceptors in mice and in humans. It was very important work, as she explained why she explained why pain therapies given to mice have failed in humans.

This paper is the next step, clearly demonstrating the profound extent of these differences“, Price stated:”A whole set of nociceptors that many people study in mice are simply not found in humans. There are subtypes in humans that don’t even exist in non-human primates. “

It is not that we should abandon all existing non-human pain patterns. But some are really good, while others aren’t, depending on what you study. When it comes to this aspect of pain, our work shows which one it is “, Continued the scientist.

Structure of the brain, sensory neurons

To profile all gene activity in a DRG tissue sample, the research team used an advanced technique called spatial transcriptomics, which has enhanced capabilities with respect to single-cell RNA sequencing.

It is rare to have access to both the human tissue we have used and the technology“Said Dr. Diana Tavares-Ferreiraalso co-author of the study and CAPS fellow: “Spatial transcriptomics allows us to overcome the large size of these neurons and to see with a certain degree of certainty where and how a gene is expressed in human nociceptors “.

Our main goal was to fully characterize the entire transcriptome of human DRG neurons because much of the work that was done to find novel therapeutic pain targets occurred in mice. Our results help to clarify why these researches struggle to produce results”.

By describing the types of sensory neurons present in the human DRG and detailing their gene expression, the scientists had a broader and more complete picture of what the physiological functions were for each gene.

Rotator cuff, sensory neurons

With this knowledge, not only can anyone use our data to look for drug targets they couldn’t have searched before, but in some cases we don’t even need to use mice now. We can use human information“Explained Price.

Price called the removal of this dependence on animal models “a fundamental change“, Because it allows scholars to carefully observe how any type of cell could interact with any neuron in the human peripheral nervous system.

We are now able to approach the development of pain therapies in a more specific way and to think about how chronic pain manifests itself in people in a different way.“, Said Price:”My hope is that our findings can change the way people research our field. It is a roadmap that we will use and others are encouraged to follow it“.

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