- The human operculo-insular cortex is pain-preferentially but not pain-exclusively activated by trigeminal and olfactory stimuli (2012)
- Increasing evidence about the central nervous representation of pain in the brain suggests that the operculo-insular cortex is a crucial part of the pain matrix. The pain-specificity of a brain region may be tested by administering nociceptive stimuli while controlling for unspecific activations by administering non-nociceptive stimuli. We applied this paradigm to nasal chemosensation, delivering trigeminal or olfactory stimuli, to verify the pain-specificity of the operculo-insular cortex. In detail, brain activations due to intranasal stimulation induced by non-nociceptive olfactory stimuli of hydrogen sulfide (5 ppm) or vanillin (0.8 ppm) were used to mask brain activations due to somatosensory, clearly nociceptive trigeminal stimulations with gaseous carbon dioxide (75% v/v). Functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) images were recorded from 12 healthy volunteers in a 3T head scanner during stimulus administration using an event-related design. We found that significantly more activations following nociceptive than non-nociceptive stimuli were localized bilaterally in two restricted clusters in the brain containing the primary and secondary somatosensory areas and the insular cortices consistent with the operculo-insular cortex. However, these activations completely disappeared when eliminating activations associated with the administration of olfactory stimuli, which were small but measurable. While the present experiments verify that the operculo-insular cortex plays a role in the processing of nociceptive input, they also show that it is not a pain-exclusive brain region and allow, in the experimental context, for the interpretation that the operculo-insular cortex splay a major role in the detection of and responding to salient events, whether or not these events are nociceptive or painful.
- Quick discrimination of A delta and C fiber mediated pain based on three verbal descriptors (2010)
- Background: A delta and C fibers are the major pain-conducting nerve fibers, activate only partly the same brain areas, and are differently involved in pain syndromes. Whether a stimulus excites predominantly A delta or C fibers is a commonly asked question in basic pain research but a quick test was lacking so far. Methodology/Principal Findings: Of 77 verbal descriptors of pain sensations, "pricking", "dull" and "pressing" distinguished best (95% cases correctly) between A delta fiber mediated (punctate pressure produced by means of von Frey hairs) and C fiber mediated (blunt pressure) pain, applied to healthy volunteers in experiment 1. The sensation was assigned to A delta fibers when "pricking" but neither "dull" nor "pressing" were chosen, and to C fibers when the sum of the selections of "dull" or "pressing" was greater than that of the selection of "pricking". In experiment 2, with an independent cohort, the three-descriptor questionnaire achieved sensitivity and specificity above 0.95 for distinguishing fiber preferential non-mechanical induced pain (laser heat, exciting A delta fibers, and 5-Hz electric stimulation, exciting C fibers). Conclusion: A three-item verbal rating test using the words "pricking", "dull", and "pressing" may provide sufficient information to characterize a pain sensation evoked by a physical stimulus as transmitted via A delta or via C fibers. It meets the criteria of a screening test by being easy to administer, taking little time, being comfortable in handling, and inexpensive while providing high specificity for relevant information.
- Agreeable smellers and sensitive neurotics - correlations among personality traits and sensory thresholds (2011)
- Correlations between personality traits and a wide range of sensory thresholds were examined. Participants (N = 124) completed a personality inventory (NEO-FFI) and underwent assessment of olfactory, trigeminal, tactile and gustatory detection thresholds, as well as examination of trigeminal and tactile pain thresholds. Significantly enhanced odor sensitivity in socially agreeable people, significantly enhanced trigeminal sensitivity in neurotic subjects, and a tendency for enhanced pain tolerance in highly conscientious participants was revealed. It is postulated that varied sensory processing may influence an individual's perception of the environment; particularly their perception of socially relevant or potentially dangerous stimuli and thus, varied with personality.
- Linkage between increased nociception and olfaction via a SCN9A haplotype (2013)
- Background and Aims: Mutations reducing the function of Nav1.7 sodium channels entail diminished pain perception and olfactory acuity, suggesting a link between nociception and olfaction at ion channel level. We hypothesized that if such link exists, it should work in both directions and gain-of-function Nav1.7 mutations known to be associated with increased pain perception should also increase olfactory acuity. Methods: SCN9A variants were assessed known to enhance pain perception and found more frequently in the average population. Specifically, carriers of SCN9A variants rs41268673C>A (P610T; n = 14) or rs6746030C>T (R1150W; n = 21) were compared with non-carriers (n = 40). Olfactory function was quantified by assessing odor threshold, odor discrimination and odor identification using an established olfactory test. Nociception was assessed by measuring pain thresholds to experimental nociceptive stimuli (punctate and blunt mechanical pressure, heat and electrical stimuli). Results: The number of carried alleles of the non-mutated SCN9A haplotype rs41268673C/rs6746030C was significantly associated with the comparatively highest olfactory threshold (0 alleles: threshold at phenylethylethanol dilution step 12 of 16 (n = 1), 1 allele: 10.6±2.6 (n = 34), 2 alleles: 9.5±2.1 (n = 40)). The same SCN9A haplotype determined the pain threshold to blunt pressure stimuli (0 alleles: 21.1 N/m2, 1 allele: 29.8±10.4 N/m2, 2 alleles: 33.5±10.2 N/m2). Conclusions: The findings established a working link between nociception and olfaction via Nav1.7 in the gain-of-function direction. Hence, together with the known reduced olfaction and pain in loss-of-function mutations, a bidirectional genetic functional association between nociception and olfaction exists at Nav1.7 level.
- Current evidence for a modulation of low back pain by human genetic variants (2009)
- The manifestation of chronic back pain depends on structural, psychosocial, occupational and genetic influences. Heritability estimates for back pain range from 30% to 45%. Genetic influences are caused by genes affecting intervertebral disc degeneration or the immune response and genes involved in pain perception, signalling and psychological processing. This inter-individual variability which is partly due to genetic differences would require an individualized pain management to prevent the transition from acute to chronic back pain or improve the outcome. The genetic profile may help to define patients at high risk for chronic pain. We summarize genetic factors that (i) impact on intervertebral disc stability, namely Collagen IX, COL9A3, COL11A1, COL11A2, COL1A1, aggrecan (AGAN), cartilage intermediate layer protein, vitamin D receptor, metalloproteinsase-3 (MMP3), MMP9, and thrombospondin-2, (ii) modify inflammation, namely interleukin-1 (IL-1) locus genes and IL-6 and (iii) and pain signalling namely guanine triphosphate (GTP) cyclohydrolase 1, catechol-O-methyltransferase, μ opioid receptor (OPMR1), melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), transient receptor potential channel A1 and fatty acid amide hydrolase and analgesic drug metabolism (cytochrome P450 [CYP]2D6, CYP2C9).
- A common HLA-DPA1 variant is associated with hepatitis B virus infection but fails to distinguish active from inactive Caucasian carriers (2012)
- Background and Aims: Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major health issue worldwide. Recently, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DP locus were identified to be associated with HBV infection in Asian populations. Most significant associations were observed for the A alleles of HLA-DPA1 rs3077 and HLA-DPB1 rs9277535, which conferred a decreased risk for HBV infection. We assessed the implications of these variants for HBV infection in Caucasians. Methods: Two HLA-DP gene variants (rs3077 and rs9277535) were analyzed for associations with persistent HBV infection and with different clinical outcomes, i.e., inactive HBsAg carrier status versus progressive chronic HBV (CHB) infection in Caucasian patients (n = 201) and HBsAg negative controls (n = 235). Results: The HLA-DPA1 rs3077 C allele was significantly associated with HBV infection (odds ratio, OR = 5.1, 95% confidence interval, CI: 1.9–13.7; p = 0.00093). However, no significant association was seen for rs3077 with progressive CHB infection versus inactive HBsAg carrier status (OR = 2.7, 95% CI: 0.6–11.1; p = 0.31). In contrast, HLA-DPB1 rs9277535 was not associated with HBV infection in Caucasians (OR = 0.8, 95% CI: 0.4–1.9; p = 1). Conclusions: A highly significant association of HLA-DPA1 rs3077 with HBV infection was observed in Caucasians. However, as a differentiation between different clinical courses of HBV infection was not possible, knowledge of the HLA-DPA1 genotype cannot be translated into personalized anti-HBV therapy approaches.
- Functional Abstraction as a Method to Discover Knowledge in Gene Ontologies (2014)
- Computational analyses of functions of gene sets obtained in microarray analyses or by topical database searches are increasingly important in biology. To understand their functions, the sets are usually mapped to Gene Ontology knowledge bases by means of over-representation analysis (ORA). Its result represents the specific knowledge of the functionality of the gene set. However, the specific ontology typically consists of many terms and relationships, hindering the understanding of the ‘main story’. We developed a methodology to identify a comprehensibly small number of GO terms as “headlines” of the specific ontology allowing to understand all central aspects of the roles of the involved genes. The Functional Abstraction method finds a set of headlines that is specific enough to cover all details of a specific ontology and is abstract enough for human comprehension. This method exceeds the classical approaches at ORA abstraction and by focusing on information rather than decorrelation of GO terms, it directly targets human comprehension. Functional abstraction provides, with a maximum of certainty, information value, coverage and conciseness, a representation of the biological functions in a gene set plays a role. This is the necessary means to interpret complex Gene Ontology results thus strengthening the role of functional genomics in biomarker and drug discovery.
- Effect sizes in experimental pain produced by gender, genetic variants and sensitization procedures (2011)
- Background: Various effects on pain have been reported with respect to their statistical significance, but a standardized measure of effect size has been rarely added. Such a measure would ease comparison of the magnitude of the effects across studies, for example the effect of gender on heat pain with the effect of a genetic variant on pressure pain. Methodology/Principal Findings: Effect sizes on pain thresholds to stimuli consisting of heat, cold, blunt pressure, punctuate pressure and electrical current, administered to 125 subjects, were analyzed for 29 common variants in eight human genes reportedly modulating pain, gender and sensitization procedures using capsaicin or menthol. The genotype explained 0–5.9% of the total interindividual variance in pain thresholds to various stimuli and produced mainly small effects (Cohen's d 0–1.8). The largest effect had the TRPA1 rs13255063T/rs11988795G haplotype explaining >5% of the variance in electrical pain thresholds and conferring lower pain sensitivity to homozygous carriers. Gender produced larger effect sizes than most variant alleles (1–14.8% explained variance, Cohen's d 0.2–0.8), with higher pain sensitivity in women than in men. Sensitization by capsaicin or menthol explained up to 63% of the total variance (4.7–62.8%) and produced largest effects according to Cohen's d (0.4–2.6), especially heat sensitization by capsaicin (Cohen's d = 2.6). Conclusions: Sensitization, gender and genetic variants produce effects on pain in the mentioned order of effect sizes. The present report may provide a basis for comparative discussions of factors influencing pain.
- Consequences of a Human TRPA1 Genetic Variant on the Perception of Nociceptive and Olfactory Stimuli (2014)
- Background: TRPA1 ion channels are involved in nociception and are also excited by pungent odorous substances. Based on reported associations of TRPA1 genetics with increased sensitivity to thermal pain stimuli, we therefore hypothesized that this association also exists for increased olfactory sensitivity. Methods: Olfactory function and nociception was compared between carriers (n = 38) and non-carriers (n = 43) of TRPA1 variant rs11988795 G.A, a variant known to enhance cold pain perception. Olfactory function was quantified by assessing the odor threshold, odor discrimination and odor identification, and by applying 200-ms pulses of H2S intranasal. Nociception was assessed by measuring pain thresholds to experimental nociceptive stimuli (blunt pressure, electrical stimuli, cold and heat stimuli, and 200-ms intranasal pulses of CO2). Results: Among the 11 subjects with moderate hyposmia, carriers of the minor A allele (n = 2) were underrepresented (34 carriers among the 70 normosmic subjects; p = 0.049). Moreover, carriers of the A allele discriminated odors significantly better than non-carriers (13.161.5 versus 12.361.6 correct discriminations) and indicated a higher intensity of the H2S stimuli (29.2613.2 versus 21612.8 mm VAS, p = 0.006), which, however, could not be excluded to have involved a trigeminal component during stimulation. Finally, the increased sensitivity to thermal pain could be reproduced. Conclusions: The findings are in line with a previous association of a human TRPA1 variant with nociceptive parameters and extend the association to the perception of odorants. However, this addresses mainly those stimulants that involve a trigeminal component whereas a pure olfactory effect may remain disputable. Nevertheless, findings suggest that future TRPA1 modulating drugs may modify the perception of odorants.