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Researcher identifies potential way to reduce chronic pain

By identifying a molecule responsible for activating the body’s pain receptors, Professor Loren Martin of the University of Toronto Mississauga offers hope to the one-in-five Canadians reportedly suffering from chronic pain – and other sufferers worldwide.

Martin, a behavioural neuroscientist working in collaboration with colleagues from McGill University and the University of North Carolina, has determined that inhibiting one of the body’s proteins, known as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), lessens the pain associated with nerve injury and inflammation in mice. Moreover, EGFR genetic mutations were also linked to the development of head and jaw pain in people. Their research appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation this month.

“The association of this receptor with small-cell lung cancer is well known, but we demonstrate that inhibition of this receptor is not unique to those suffering from cancer,” Martin said. “Instead, this receptor appears to be associated with general pain processing.”

The researchers further demonstrate that one particular molecule, epiregulin, is implicated in EGFR-related chronic pain.

“The EGFR receptor is activated by a well-known, much-studied family of molecules that play an important role in cell growth and proliferation,” he said, “but turns out that only one molecule in the family, epiregulin, is important in this instance. The others don’t have an impact on pain.”