LA JOLLA, CA January 22, 2012 Millions of people worldwide suffer from a type of chronic pain called neuropathic pain, which is triggered by nerve damage. Precisely how this pain persists has been a mystery, and current treatments are largely ineffective. But a team led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute, using a new approach known as metabolomics, has now discovered a major clue: dimethylsphingosine (DMS), a small-molecule byproduct of cellular membranes in the nervous system. In their new study, the scientists found that DMS is produced at abnormally high levels in the spinal cords of rats with neuropathic pain and appears to cause pain when injected. The findings suggest inhibiting this molecule may be a fruitful target for drug development.
"We think that this is a big step forward in understanding and treating neuropathic pain, and also a solid demonstration of the power of metabolomics," said Gary J. Patti, a research associate at Scripps Research during the study, and now an assistant professor of genetics, chemistry, and medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. Patti is a lead author of the report on the study, which appeared online in the journal Nature Chemical Biology on January 22, 2012.
Scientists who want to understand what makes diseased cells different from healthy cells have often looked for differences in levels of gene expression or cellular proteinsapproaches known respectively as genomics and proteomics. Metabolomics, by contrast, concerns differences in the levels of small-molecule metabolites, such as sugars, vitamins, and amino acids, that serve as the building blocks of basic cellular processes. "These are the molecules that are actually being transformed during cellular activity, and tracking them provides more direct information on what's happening at a biochemical level," Patti said.
Metabolomics is increasingly used to find biochemical markers or signatures of diseases.
|Contact: Mika Ono|
Scripps Research Institute