How you experience pain depends on your sex, study concludes

Men and women process pain signals differently, probably due to hormones, a new study reveals. Researchers discovered for the first time that the way neurons in the spinal cord deal with the signals for pain depend on your sex.

The findings could lead to better and more personalized treatments for chronic pain. Scientists from Carleton University and Ottawa Hospital, in Canada, used both donated human spinal cords as well as rat cords for their study.

Previous research concludes that men and women experience pain differently, but most pain research used male rodent spinal cords. The new study used female rodent and human cords as well to discover where the difference lay.

They find that a neuronal growth factor called BDNF plays a major role in amplifying spinal cord pain signaling in male humans and male rats, but not in female humans or female rats. When female rats had their ovaries removed, the difference disappeared, pointing to a hormonal connection.

“Developing new pain drugs requires a detailed understanding of how pain is processed at the biological level,” says Dr Annemarie Dedek, lead author of the study. “This new discovery lays the foundation for the development of new treatments to help those suffering from chronic pain.”

The study is published in the journal Brain.

Report by Jim Leffman, South West News Service

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