Chronic Pain Alters DNA

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The team of researchers led by Prof. Laura Stone at McGill University recently found that 6 months after inflicting nerve injuries on mice, the mice still displayed signs of skin hypersensitivity and motor impairment. This was associated with epigenetic changes in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex of the brain. Epigenetics explains how genes can be switched on and off. It’s the study of mechanisms by which the environment controls gene activity. Interestingly, the DNA changes were reversed by placing the mice in a more stimulating environment (three mice per cage, a running wheel mounted on a plastic hut and marbles). Whereas, placing the mice in an impoverished environment (one mouse per cage in the absence of a running wheel, marbles or any other forms of enrichment) didn’t restore normal DNA. DNA changes were found to correlate to hypersensitivity. In other words, placing the mice in a stimulating environment helped decrease their pain.