Why Some People Don’t Feel Pain

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Ow ow ow… DAng… I mean THANK YOU BODY. Hey guys julia here for DNews Pain helps us navigate the world. Pain tells
us when something is hot so we don’t burn ourselves. Pain tells us when we’re hurt
so we don’t damage our bodies further. As annoying and uncomfortable as it is, it actually
saves us. Pain protects us from harm. But not everyone is so…lucky. Some people are born with a genetic mutation
that leaves them unable to feel pain. There’s actually a few mutations that lead to the
condition called congenital insensitivity to pain. One mutation occurs in the PRDM12
gene. According to a study published in the journal Nature Genetics, this mutation leads
to a malformation of nerve cells or neurons. Without functioning nerves, there’s nothing
to detect a painful experience. Another mutation that causes people to not
feel pain occurs in the SCN9A gene. It causes disruptions not in the nerves, but in the
way nerves talk to each other. Nerve cells communicate by sodium ions, as these ions
get passed through channels from one nerve cell to the next, the pain signal travels
from the injury site where it’s felt, up the spinal cord and into the brain. But a mutation
in the SCN9A gene stops these channels, called Nav1.7 channels, from forming. Without these
channels, pain messages can’t be sent. So scientists being scientists, made mice
with this mutation in a study published in the journal Nature Communications! And not
surprisingly, the mice couldn’t feel pain. When their tails were exposed to extreme heat
or cold, they showed no response. But surprisingly, even though they felt no pain, their body
tried to soothe it. The mutated mice showed high levels of enkephalins, a type of opioid,
the brain’s natural painkiller at the site of injury. So even though these mice couldn’t
feel pain, their bodies recognized that pain and tried to make the mice feel better. So the researchers thought, hey, people who
have less opioids in them tend to feel more pain, I wonder what would happen if people
who don’t feel pain had less of these soothing opioids. So they gave a woman who cannot feel
pain naloxone, a medication typically used to treat opioid drug overdose, and shot her
with a heated laser. The drug stopped her opioid production. And voila! She felt pain!
Scientists said that the woman “quite enjoyed” the sensation. So cool right? but uh, what good is it making
people feel pain? Whether we like it or not, pain evolved to save us. Just take a look
at our nerves that transmit pain. Nociceptors sensory receptors are nerves whose only job
is to transmit pain from the point of injury to the brain. And they are fast, like pain
can make it’s way through these cells in 5–30 milliseconds or about about one meter
per second. It’s so quick and uncomfortable, because it gets you away from whatever is
causing the pain super fast. Some evolutionary biologists think that a lesser warning, more
of a “red flag” wouldn’t be enough for us to react so suddenly and strongly against
a potential danger. And we do know what happens when we don’t
have these kind of alarm bells in our body. According to a study published in the Journal
of Clinical Investigation, those who are born without the ability to feel pain often suffer
from infections they don’t realize they have, self injury, and they have shorter lives!
So the next time you stub your toe, don’t yell out an expletive, yell out “thank you!”
it’s saving your life. Humans.. well we let each other know when
we feel pain. When other animals feel pain they yelp or cry out in some way. But since
crabs and other invertebrates can’t… we kind of just assumed they don’t feel pain.
Well put down that order of crab legs, crabs do feel pain. To find out more, check out
this episode, right here

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