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Pain. 2019 Dec 11. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001780. [Epub ahead of print]

Detangling red hair from pain: phenotype-specific contributions from different genetic variants in melanocortin-1 receptor.

Author information

1
Alan Edwards Pain Centre, McGill University, 740 Dr. Penfield, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
2
Department of Anesthesiology and Center of Translational Pain Medicine, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA.

Abstract

Genetic variation in melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) has a known role in red hair. Studies on responses to noxious stimuli in red-haired individuals have also been conducted, with mixed findings. To investigate a possible divergence between variants responsible for red hair and pain sensitivity, we performed a gene-wide association analysis in the Orofacial Pain: Prospective Evaluation and Risk Assessment (OPPERA) cohort. All genotyped (17) MC1R variants were tested for association with heat pain temporal summation and sensitivity. Our analyses showed an association for pain sensitivity with the 5'-UTR, tagged by rs3212361, and one missense variant, rs885479 (R163Q), previously shown to be weakly associated with red hair. For both variants, the minor allele was protective. These results were validated in the 500,000-person U.K. Biobank (UKBB) cohort, where the minor alleles of rs3212361 and rs885479 were associated with a reduced count of persistent pain conditions as well as individual pain conditions. Haplotype association analysis revealed a possible joint effect from the two individual variants. The 5'-UTR variant rs3212361 was further identified as an expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL), associated with reduced transcript levels of MC1R in the brain and in the peripheral tibial nerve. Hair colour association analysis of the loss-of-function 5'-UTR rs3212361 allele identified association with red hair, and red hair colour itself was associated with a reduced count of persistent pain conditions. Together, our results suggest that primarily different mechanisms - affecting expression levels versus protein activity - mediated by different genetic variants in the MC1R locus contribute to red hair and pain.

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