Researchers at King's College London have discovered how one of the most common household painkillers works, which could pave the way for less harmful pain relief medications to be developed in the future.
Paracetamol, often known in the US and Asia as acetaminophen, is a widely-used analgesic (painkiller) and the main ingredient in everyday medications such as cold and flu remedies. Although discovered in the 1890s and marketed as a painkiller since the 1950s, exactly how it relieves pain was unknown.
This study, funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and published online today in Nature Communications, shows for the first time the principal mechanism of action for one of the most-used drugs in the world.
The researchers from King's, with colleagues from Lund University in Sweden, have identified that a protein called TRPA1, found on the surface of nerve cells, is a key molecule needed for paracetamol to be an effective painkiller.
Dr David Andersson, from the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases at King's, said: 'This is an extremely exciting finding, which unlocks the secrets of one of the most widely-used medicines, and one which could impact hugely on the development of new pain relief drugs.
'Paracetamol is the go-to medicine for treating common aches and pains, but if the recommended dose is significantly exceeded it can lead to fatal complications.
'So now we understand the underlying principal mechanism behind how this drug works, we can start to look for molecules that work in the same way to effectively relieve pain, but are less toxic and will not lead to serious complications following overdose.'
The team of researchers used a 'hot-plate' test to observe the effects of paracetamol in mice. This involved measuring the number of seconds it takes for a mouse to withdraw its paw from a slightly hot surface. They found that paracetamol increased the time it took
|Contact: Katherine Barnes|
King's College London