University Study Suggests Men and Women Process Pain Differently

uab-logo2Many previous studies have shown that men and women have different sensitivity to pain. But the assumption has always been that men and women had common pain circuitry but that pain was affected by circulating hormones that altered sensitivity to pain.

But new research by a team of scientists at the University of Alabama Birmingham finds that male and female mice used different immune cells to process chronic pain. The authors state that when an injury occurs, immune cells called microglia change shape and release chemicals that communicate with the nervous system. But the University of Alabama Birmingham research shows that this process occurs naturally only in male mice. Female mice use a different type of immune cell to release the same chemicals that communicate with the nervous system.

Robert Sorge, an assistant professor of psychology at the university and lead author of the study, notes that “realizing that females likely process pain differently than males will allow us to focus on creating alternate pain therapies for each sex. Females could respond better to a treatment that is different from what is prescribed for males.”

The article, “Different Immune Cells Mediate Mechanical Pain Hypersensitivity in Male and Female Mice,” was published on the website of the journal Nature Neuroscience. It may be accessed here.

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