June 27, 2024 at 9:23 am

Scientists Still Don’t Know Why Male And Female Pain Receptors Are Different

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

There’s something women have known for a long time: our bodies are different from men’s in most ways, but our doctors aren’t trained or knowledgeable on how to treat those differences.

Research has been improving on female diseases, female safety, and the female body in general, but there’s still a long way to go.

This study, which revealed an unexpected truth about pain in males and females, could change the way doctors manage pain.

It found that in every case of rodents and primates, the pain receptors in male and female members are primed by different molecules.

The receptors, known as nociceptors, are sensitized by different hormones.

Source: Shutterstock

The results were surprising, even to the researchers, because evolution doesn’t typically do things totally differently in male and female counterparts.

They use the example of nipples – men don’t need them, but it would be more work to remove them than alter them slightly.

So, if nature went about completely different pain receptors, it must have been worth it for some reason – and that reason usually has to do with survival, reproduction, or both.

“Our data supports the remarkable conclusion that nociceptors from multiple species, including humans, can be functionally classified as male or female.”

The hormone prolactin sensitizes clusters of neurons in the spine in females of all three species – macaque monkeys, mice, and humans – but not in the males.

It turns mild pain into to debilitating pain.

The neurotransmitter orexin B plays a similar role in males, but not in females.

The team says their sample sizes were large enough to make them confident in their findings.

Source: Shutterstock

There were other pain-sensing neurons that showed stronger sensitization to the same hormones in one gender while being completely missing in the other.

“Until now, the assumption has been that the driving mechanisms that produce pain are the same in men and women. What we found is that the basic, underlying mechanisms that result in the perception of pain are different in male and female mice, in male and female nonhuman primates, and in male and female humans.”

What they don’t know is what the evolutionary basis is for these differences.

Prolactin triggers the development of breast tissue and lactation, so for obvious reasons, it makes sense this pain is restricted to females.

Orexin B, though, keeps all humans awake, so scientists aren’t sure why it produces a different effect in men than in women as far as pain.

What both hormones have in common is that they both do perform other roles in the body as well.

The authors hope these surprise findings will have serious implications in the field of medicine.

“Patient gender is currently not a common consideration for the choice of pain therapy. Precision medicine, based on patient gender, could improve therapeutic outcomes by selectively targeting mechanisms promoting pain in women or men.”

Source: Shutterstock

They hope that clinical trials will include all genders, and if they don’t, will not be assumed to apply to the entire population.

“Conceptually, this paper is a big advance in our understanding of how pain may be produced in males and females. The outcomes of our study were strikingly consistent and support the remarkable conclusion that nociceptors, the fundamental building blocks of pain, are different in males and females. This provides an opportunity to treat pain specifically and potentially better in men or women, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

This work proves there is much that still needs to be done in both understanding pain in males and females, and how that understanding can lead to more effective treatment.

Let’s hope the rest of the community takes it and runs!

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