A new study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that males and females may experience pain differently, using different biological systems when processing pain. The findings may lead to alternative pain therapies for each gender while promoting equality in using lab animal test subjects from both sexes.
Study Suggests Pain Receptors May Differ in Males and Females
A team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Sorge at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have published a study that suggests males and females may process pain differently. The study was published this week online in Nature Neuroscience. The findings have contradicted popular assumptions that men and women experience the same pain because we share a common pain circuit.
It follows that the genders should experience pain differently because different sex-related hormones may affect the pain receptors. Current research suggests that each sex uses its own biological system to process pain, which accounts for the different sensitivity to pain.
Alternative Pain Therapies for Different Genders
Past experiments examined the importance of the immune system’s microglia cells in pain processing. When microglia is activated by injury, it releases a chemical that sends a message to neurons in the spinal cord which essentially tells our bodies we’re in pain. Now, recent research has proven the immune system is an even bigger player in pain response as it works in tandem with the nervous system but differs among males and females.
The new study reveals that the microglia process occurs only in male mice as female mice instead use T-cells, a cell that plays a crucial role in the immune system, to produce the same pain response. Researchers did note that the female mice could use the male process, but only did so under specific circumstances.
Dr. Robert Sorge, the study’s lead researcher, believes new findings will help promote more effective therapies for each sex.
“Females could respond better to a treatment that is different from what is prescribed for males — that’s something we as researchers were not looking at before, and this study has helped us uncover that need,” said the assistant psychology professor at UAB.
Sex Equality in the Lab, Using Male and Female Lab Animals
Though women suffer from chronic pain in much greater numbers than men according to the CDC, the sex difference between pain responses has never been discovered until now. Sorge and the other researchers point to the fact that most research is conducted on male rats and mice.
However, in a recent announcement, the U.S. National Institutes of Health have announced a mandatory policy to use female animals in the pre-clinical research.
As Sorge and his team of researchers concluded, the female lab animals and their cell lines will ensure that problems that are sex-related will be more easily identified.
“The current findings from this paper are an excellent example of the wisdom of this policy,” Sorge said.