Genetics & Genomics

April 20, 2023

Genetics and chronic pain

Polygenic risk scores — scores that reflect the influence of common genetic variants — could be used to predict the likelihood of developing chronic overlapping pain conditions and guide biomarker and targeted prevention efforts.

Chronic pain often involves more than one part of the body. For example, migraine headache may occur with fibromyalgia (pain throughout the body) or chronic low back pain. 

These chronic overlapping pain conditions (COPCs) are thought to result from the “polygenic” interaction of multiple gene variants, and are associated with central sensitization, the development of hypersensitivity to repeated painful stimuli. 

To determine genetic influences on eight common COPCs, Lori Schirle, PhD, CRNA, and colleagues calculated polygenic risk scores (PRSs) from the UK Biobank pain questionnaire and tested for associations with centralized pain scores (CPSs), measures of central sensitization derived from Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s biobank, BioVU. 

Reporting in The Journal of Pain, the researchers found that PRSs, which summarize the influence of common genetic variants on the risk of developing chronic pain, for example, were significantly associated with CPSs. 

Once validated in independent cohorts, these pain PRSs may be useful in predicting the likelihood of developing COPCs, allowing for targeted prevention efforts. 

Co-authors were David Samuels, PhD, Annika Faucon, Nancy Cox, PhD, and Stephen Bruehl, PhD. The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NR020512, GM080178, HG009086, HG007674, MD010722, MH113362, HL092870, GM120523, TR002243, DK020593, AG061518, AG059716, DC016977, MH107467, DA050334, AG048915) and American Heart Association.