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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 15;6(3):e17752. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017752.

Perception of thermal pain and the thermal grill illusion is associated with polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter gene.

Author information

1
Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Stockholm Brain Institute, Department of Clinical Neuroscience Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. fredrik.lindstedt@ki.se

Abstract

AIM:

The main aim of this study was to assess if the perception of thermal pain thresholds is associated with genetically inferred levels of expression of the 5-HT transporter (5-HTT). Additionally, the perception of the so-called thermal grill illusion (TGI) was assessed. Forty-four healthy individuals (27 females, 17 males) were selected a-priori based on their 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 ('tri-allelic 5-HTTLPR') genotype, with inferred high or low 5-HTT expression. Thresholds for heat- and cold-pain were determined along with the sensory and affective dimensions of the TGI.

RESULTS:

Thresholds to heat- and cold-pain correlated strongly (rho  = -0.58, p<0.001). Individuals in the low 5-HTT-expressing group were significantly less sensitive to heat-pain (p = 0.02) and cold-pain (p = 0.03), compared to the high-expressing group. A significant gender-by-genotype interaction also emerged for cold-pain perception (p = 0.02); low 5-HTT-expressing females were less sensitive. The TGI was rated as significantly more unpleasant (affective-motivational dimension) than painful (sensory-discriminatory dimension), (p<0.001). Females in the low 5-HTT expressing group rated the TGI as significantly less unpleasant than high 5-HTT expressing females (p<0.05), with no such differences among men.

CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE:

We demonstrate an association between inferred low 5-HTT expression and elevated thresholds to thermal pain in healthy non-depressed individuals. Despite the fact that reduced 5-HTT expression is a risk factor for chronic pain we found it to be related to hypoalgesia for threshold thermal pain. Low 5-HTT expression is, however, also a risk factor for depression where thermal insensitivity is often seen. Our results may thus contribute to a better understanding of the molecular underpinnings of such paradoxical hypoalgesia. The results point to a differential regulation of thermoafferent-information along the neuraxis on the basis of 5-HTT expression and gender. The TGI, suggested to rely on the central integration of thermoafferent-information, may prove a valuable tool in probing the affective-motivational dimension of these putative mechanisms.

PMID:
21423614
PMCID:
PMC3057988
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0017752
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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