A Single Brain Protein Promotes [Improved ] Maintenance of Chronic Pain

Emerging research has found that a protein called Regulator of G protein signaling 4 (RGS4) plays an important role in maintaining long-term pain states. As a matter of fact, the researchers say this protein might serve as a profound basis as a promising target for an effective treatment of chronic pain conditions. 

Researchers say this discovery might assist doctors in stopping acute pain from progressing any further into chronic pain.  Chronic pain, of course, is a condition in which patients experience not just pain—and over an extended amount of time—but also a handful of debilitating symptoms that range in complexity and severity from sensory deficits to depression and even the loss of motivation.  

Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine Friedman Brain Institute professor in the Nash Family Department of Neuroscience, Ventia Zachariou explains, “Our research reveals that RGS4 actions contribute to the transition from acute and sub-acute pain to pathological pain states and to the maintenance of pain.”

Essentially, RGS4 is a multifunctional protein widely expressed throughout the brain circuits, used for processing pathological pain, mood, and motivation. Researchers in this study observed that this protein is crucial for maintaining pain states, regardless of the cause of source of that pain:  nerve injury or inflammation, etc.  In genetic mouse models, then, the researchers were able to ablate this gene expression to demonstrate how active RGS4 can disrupt chronic pain state maintenance. 

While inactive RGS4 does not affect acute pain or, perhaps more importantly, the induction of chronic pain, it can (and does) promote recovery from symptoms of sensory hypersensitivity; at least, in preclinical models of peripheral nerve injury, peripheral inflammation, and chemotherapy-induced neurotherapy.  This discovery, then, led the researchers to conclude that RGS4 may be the key to reducing the tendency or severity of chronic pain. 

Effectively, manipulating this gene expression appears to contribute to improved pain states over a long period of time. 

Also a professor in the the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, Zachariou goes on to say, “Because chronic pain states affect numerous neurochemical processes and single-target drugs are unlikely to work, it’s exciting to have discovered a multifunctional protein that can be targeted to disrupt the maintenance of pain.”