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UF scientists find genetic clues about pain insensitivity

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Published on Aug 18, 2010

A baby who rarely cries is many parents' idea of a "happy" baby. Ashlyn Blocker was that kind of baby.
She never cried at birth, when she was hungry, wet or teething. But when neither a severe diaper rash nor a cut on the surface of her eye caused the tiniest complaint, her parents, Tara and John Blocker, realized it wasn't happiness that kept her quiet.
Ashlyn could not feel pain in a normal way.
Now, researchers at the University of Florida have pinpointed a major clue about her condition, called congenital insensitivity to pain. They identified two genetic mutations that affect how strongly pain signals are sent to the brain.
"This is a gene that, depending on how it is modified, has the ability to affect pain sensitivity to a large degree," said Dr. Roland Staud, a pain expert and professor in the UF College of Medicine who led the study.
The findings shed light not just on the inability to feel pain, but also, at least potentially, on cases in which people feel unbearable or chronic pain. This knowledge ultimately could guide the development of novel and effective pain therapies.
The work appears in online and upcoming print editions of the European Journal of Pain.

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