How We Understand Chronic Pain

Pain minimizes injury and death, but some people suffer from chronic pain or pain that lasts after an injury (allodynia). Because chronic pain costs 600 million and affects 100 million people, we need to understand it.

Since fruit flies (Drosophila) have eighty-percent of human diseases and have similar nervous system to humans, Drosophila are perfect organisms to help researchers understand pain and disease.

Knowing this Geoffrey Ganter and his team at the dept. of biology of University of New England (UNE) began experiments using Drosophila trying to understand allodynia. To do this, Ganter’s team used probes as hot as 50°C to poke Drosophila to see how much pain they can handle. They found that the pain was minimal and compared to each other, equal.

Because the flies didn’t respond, Ganter’s team gave Drosophila an extreme sunburn and, with 41°C (a non-lethal dose), Ganter probed them to see how much pain they felt. The sunburned Drosophila felt 80% of the chronic pain.

To find what causes allodynia, researchers at UNE took genes that code for receptors. Receptors are, when activated by environmental pressures, proteins that signal binding elements to attach to right DNA sequence to make a specific protein. When they took away the protein “DPP”, normal Drosophila felt 7% to 20% of pain. With more DPP, normal Drosophila felt 40% of the pain.

By doing this procedure, they found four more receptors (“tks”, “sax”, “gbb” and “wit”) involved with experiencing pain.

UNE researchers discovered so much more. There’s a protein receptor, “punt,” that blocks pain sensation. They also found proteins, “MAD” and “MED”, that activate pain receptor gene-coding. They discovered the proteins that repress these genes and found out that the more pain someone feels in one place less the repressors.

The knowledge of the six proteins, the activator proteins, and repressors could lead a breakthrough to better painkillers and therapy.


Ganter, G. (2016, Feb. 1). Can flies help us understand chronic pain? Address at the University of New England, ME.