MONTREAL, CN (September 10, 2009) − Agonizing physical pain, known as vaso-occlusive pain, can afflict children who have sickle cell disease (SCD). In some cases infants as young as two months of age suffer vaso-occlusive pain so severe that opiate medications and hospitalizations are their only relief. Researchers believe vaso-occlusion is caused by a blockage of the blood vessels that occurs when sickle shaped red cells attempt to pass through the round blood vessels. How vaso-occulsion leads to pain, and its impact on males and females are still unknown. A University of South Carolina research team suggests that a naturally occurring chemical in the body, endothelin (ET), may play a role.
ET is produced by most tissues in the body and is highly concentrated in blood vessels. It causes blood vessels to contract, which contributes to pain. ET is the most potent blood vessel constrictor currently known. Characterized by a molecular structure similar to snake venom, ET can pack the punch of a bee sting.
Researchers Sarah Sweitzer, Federico Perez and Alvin McKelvy, Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience, University of South Carolina, Columbia have conducted several studies involving ET and vaso-occlusion pain. They are presenting an update of their work, "Sexually Dimorphic Nociceptive Priming by Endothelin: Involvement of the Endothelin B Receptor," as part of the 11th International Conference on Endothelin being held September 9-12, 2009 in Montreal, CN. The program is being sponsored by the American Physiological Society (APS; www.the-aps.org). A copy of the complete program is available at http://the-aps.org/meetings/aps/ET11Montreal/index.htm.
Pain Early and Later in Life: Two-Part Study
The study was conducted in two parts. During phase I, 50 SCD+ adolescents (male and females between ages 8-
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American Physiological Society