An important finding regarding chronic pain was made by a group of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. In their study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers explain that they discovered a protein called RGS4 (Regulator of G protein Signaling 4) that plays a very important role in maintaining chronic pain.
The transition from acute pain to chronic pain occurs through adaptations in the immune cells, in the glial and in the neuronal ones, changes that at the moment are not completely understood. It is precisely this lack of understanding that underlies the failure of many chronic pain medications which can also cause side effects. The only drugs that seem to actually work are opioids but these can cause serious long-term side effects.
This new discovery, which the researchers themselves refer to as “exciting”, could instead be very useful for creating new drugs that target this protein to stop chronic pain. As Venetia Zachariou, a professor at Mount Sinai explains, the RGS4 protein appears to strongly contribute to the transition from acute to pathologic/chronic pain.
The experiments, in this case, were carried out on mice: the researchers used genetically modified mice in which the action of the RGS4 protein was deactivated. This deactivation did not affect acute pain or the induction of chronic pain itself but the mice themselves recovered within three weeks.
The researchers also tried to reduce the expression of RGS4 in a particular area of the brain and this caused recovery from mechanical and cold allodynia. Now researchers are trying to study the influence of RGS4 also in other areas of the body such as the spinal cord or in other areas of the brain that regulate mood.