Neuroimmunology

For females, a different path to pain

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Science  21 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6250, pp. 839-840
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6250.839-d

The immune cells underlying pain responses may differ between males and females

IMAGE: H. HUANG ET AL. NAT. STRUCT. MOL. BIOL. (13 JULY 2015) © NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP

Chronic pain affects more women than men. To better understand why, Sorge et al. compared the mechanisms that underlie neuropathic pain in male and female mice. Previous studies suggested that immune cells called microglia trigger pain sensitivity in response to nerve injury. Surprisingly, blocking microglia genetically or pharmacologically reduced pain in male but not in female mice. This sex-specific response depended on testosterone—blocking microglia alleviated pain in testosterone-treated females but not in castrated mice. Lymphocytes, rather than microglia, appeared to promote pain in female mice. These results suggest that scientists may need to examine sex-specific responses when testing new treatments for pain and other neurological diseases involving immune cells.

Nat. Neurosci. 18, 1081 (2015).

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