Researchers from Germany and Sweden have found that modern humans who have a Neanderthal genetic variant for an ion channel associated with pain experience pain more strongly, as if they were eight years older.
He pain It is mediated by specialized nerve cells that are activated when something potentially harmful affects various parts of the body. These cells have a ion channel special sodium that plays a key role in starting the electrical impulse that signals that sensation and sends it to the brain.
A new study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) and Karolinska Institute (Sweden) indicates that people who have inherited the genetic variantneanderthal from this ion channel experience more pain. The results of the work have been published in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology.
The authors used data from a large UK population study and found that those with the Neanderthal variant of the ion channel experience more pain
Today, scientists have severalgenomes High-quality Neanderthals with which they can identify the genetic changes that were present in that species, investigate their physiological effects, and examine their consequences when they occur in humans today.
By investigating a gene that carries such changes, the team led by the neuroscientistHugo Zeberg found that some people, especially from Central and South America, but also from Europe, have inherited a Neanderthal variant of agene encoding an ion channel that initiates the sensation of pain.
The authors have used data from a huge population study from the UK and have found that those who have the Neanderthal variant of the ion channel experience more pain. “The most important factor for the intensity of pain that people report is their age. But wearing this variant makes you feel more pain, similar to what you would experience if you were eight years older, ”says Zeberg.
Three differences ofamino acids
“This variant - explains the researcher - contains three amino acid differences with respect to the common 'modern' variant. While single amino acid substitutions do not affect ion channel function, the complete Neanderthal variant carrying these three substitutions leads to increased sensitivity to pain in people today ”, he highlights.
At the molecular level, the Neanderthal ion channel is more easily activated, which could explain why people who have inherited it have a lower pain threshold.
"It's hard to say whether Neanderthals experienced more pain because pain is modulated in both the spinal cord and the brain," says the co-author. Svante Pääbo, considered 'father' of the Neanderthal genome, "but our work shows that its threshold for initiating pain impulses was lower than in most humans today."
Hugo Zeberg, Svante Pääbo et al. "A Neandertal sodium channel increases pain sensitivity in present-day humans."Current Biology (July 23, 2020).