Professor Andrew Dillin and a team of biologists from the Salk Institute discovered that by blocking pain receptors in mice, they could increase life, metabolism, and improve cognition. The effect has been seen before in other animals like flies and worms, but never in a mammal such as mice, so the researchers concluded that the same effect is very likely in humans. The survival curves indicate the improvement in vitality in the mice. During the course of the study, the normal control group mice lived 30 months, the biologically engineered mice 33 months, a 10 percent increase.
Specifically, Dillin and her team discovered that when one of the pain receptors TRPV1 is active, it sends molecular messages to the cells telling them to produce proteins involving metabolism. The genetically engineered mice have suffered from some side effects, obviously they are less responsive to certain pain stimuli. They are only immune to extremely low levels of pains like small amounts of pressure and small heat related pain. The pain receptors blocked are also responsible for the body’s response to sensations of spiciness. The mice who had these receptors blocked were less sensitive to spicy food.
The work has garnered attention for discovering a mechanism that extends lifespan. As of yet, it is still considered unwise to genetically engineer out pain receptors without a full understanding what will happen, due to the importance for humans to feel pain. Alternatively, scientists are looking to develop drugs that block the specific signals being sent to the metabolic pathways that are linked to aging. They want to create a drug that elicits the results from the study with mice without inhibiting the body’s ability to fully experience pain.
Dillin, however, believes that blocking pain receptors should be used to relieve pain, along with increasing life and metabolism. The researcher stated that the method could relieve those who have chronic pain that interfered with their daily lives. She also agrees that the method could significantly aid obesity and diabetes in adults. The University of California, Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology suggested in her study that as humans age, they experience more pain, which speeds up the aging process.
According to Dillin and her team, the constant activation of TRPV1 on a nerve cell results in the death of a neuron. Dillin stated that blocking the pain receptors TRPV1 and CGRP is directly linked to health, and increases in life and metabolism. TRPV1 is a receptor that is found in the skin, nerves, and joints that reacts to painful stimuli, most notably heat. The pain receptor is also located on the pancreas where it stimulates the production of chemicals that cause inflammation and prevent insulin release, so the blocking of this pain receptor would aid in diabetes. Mice lacking TRPV1 were protected from diet induced obesity. The genetically engineered mice were older, but had the metabolism of a youthful mice. Dillin and her team will publish their findings in Cell and are looking for partners and funding to further develop their findings.
By Andres Loubriel