SNPwatch: Common Genetic Variant Linked to Chronic Pain

ditor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.

If you’ve ever stubbed your toe, given yourself a paper cut, or burned yourself on a hot stove, you’re very familiar with the intense — but temporary — feelings of acute pain. Chronic pain, on the other hand, can persist for years, usually precipitated by a significant injury. Older people and those with more extensive injuries are more likely to develop chronic pain following such an event but the risk factors are otherwise not well known.

In a recent study published in the journal Brain, Michael Costigan from the Children’s Hospital in Boston and an international team of scientists searched for genetic factors that might contribute to the development of neuropathic pain (chronic pain following nerve injury) in about 1,350 individuals with European or Jewish ancestry. They found that each copy of a C at was associated with greater pain sensitivity.

Because pain is a complex condition, studies such as this one can be challenging to conduct. Indeed, Costigan’s study comprised several different sub-groups of neuropathic pain sufferers — those with lumbar root pain or sciatica pain following disc herniation, amputees, those with post-mastectomy pain, as well as healthy pain-free individuals. But in all pain groups aside from the post-mastectomy group, the C version of was significantly associated with more severe pain. The study authors are not certain why this SNP was not associated with pain in the post-mastectomy group, but they hypothesize that this group may differ from the others in the underlying causes of pain or in treatment protocols. In the healthy, pain-free individuals, the C version was also significantly associated with increased sensitivity to pain.

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Costigan and his colleagues had specifically targeted and other SNPs around the KCNS1 gene based on available data from pain research in mice. KCNS1 codes for a protein that regulates the movement of potassium ions in and out of cells. This function is especially important in nerve cells, which use the relative concentrations of different ions to control the nervous system’s response to environmental and internal signals. Although the C version of alters the resulting KCNS1 protein, it is not known whether this change affects the protein’s function.

Millions of people in the United States suffer from chronic pain of some kind, and research in this area has the potential to impact many. This study identifies a new link between the KCNS1 gene and neuropathic pain, furthering knowledge of genetic factors influencing chronic pain and potentially informing therapeutic strategies. Future research may pinpoint the reason this KCNS1 variant influences pain response and identify additional factors involved in chronic pain.

SNPwatch gives you the latest news about research linking various traits and conditions to individual genetic variations. These studies are exciting because they offer a glimpse into how genetics may affect our bodies and health; but in most cases, more work is needed before this research can provide information of value to individuals. For that reason it is important to remember that like all information we provide, the studies we describe in SNPwatch are for research and educational purposes only. SNPwatch is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice; you should always seek the advice of your physician or other appropriate healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding diagnosis, cure, treatment or prevention of any disease or other medical condition.






  • dorkmo

    i have CC and sensitive scalp

  • Maureen

    hmmmm…..I am cc and am notorious for being able to withstand pain to a great degree. Could there possibly be some missed “other” conditions of this effect?
    Guess there are exceptions to every rule….

    • http://23andme.com Shwu

      Hi Maureen,

      Yes, there are certainly other factors and genetic variants involved — pain is a very complex phenomenon. In fact, the association reported in this paper explained less than 10% of the variance in pain sensitivity in the study participants. In general, an association is not a yes/no for whether someone will have a condition — it simply means that more people had a particular version of a SNP who belonged to the “case” group than the “control” group, and so your likelihood for “belonging” to one group or the other (your “risk” for a disease, say) is greater depending on which version of the SNP you have. For this study, the C version of the SNP was more common in people who were more sensitive to pain than in people who were less sensitive to pain, so we say that the C version is associated with greater pain sensitivity, but you could certainly have the C version and not be very sensitive to pain.

  • char

    Well, I am CC for pain sensitivity. Throughout my life I could withstand a variety of pain that set others off. Doctors would marvel that I had none. This lasted through my appendectomy/oopherectomy, childbirths, numerous D & C’s (all really necessary) and my first kidney surgery. Somewhere at or after my 2nd kidney resection this pain problem set in. I have had Fibro symproms and persistant extreme (or worse) daily pain since it made itself known. How I would love to turn this receptor off!! Is there a gene for that? Can I have one implanted?? Don’t I wish!!

  • Rose

    Hmm, I have CC at this SNP and also have Fibromyalgia and am in treatment with a pain specialist for chronic pain. This is all so interesting!

  • April

    I wonder if including people with congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, or CIPA would lend some clue to this mystery. It would certainly be interesting to find out if they are missing CC.

  • Jessica

    I have TT, yet I suffer from excruciating chronic pain. I’ve been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, RSD, trigeminal neuralgia, occipital neuralgia, etc. Every inch of my body hurts, yet they haven’t found a physical cause for any of my pain. I’m guessing it’s not because of any sensitivity to pain? I was hoping to figure it out with the 23andMe test. :\

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