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Papers: 22 Jun 2024 - 28 Jun 2024

2024 Jun 21

J Pain


Identifying Novel Proteins for Chronic Pain: Integration of Human Brain Proteomes and Genome-Wide Association Data.


Huang H, Ji F, Hu C, Huang J, Liu F, Han Z, Liu L, Fu G, Cao M


Numerous genome-wide association studies have identified risk genes for chronic pain, yet the mechanisms by which genetic variants modify susceptibility have remained elusive. We sought to identify key genes modulating chronic pain risk by regulating brain protein expression. We integrated brain proteomic data with the largest genome-wide dataset for multisite chronic pain (N=387,649) in a proteome-wide association study (PWAS) using discovery and confirmatory proteomic datasets (N=376 and 152) from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dPFC). Leveraging summary data-based Mendelian randomization (SMR) and Bayesian colocalization analysis (COLOC), we pinpointed potential causal genes, while a transcriptome-wide association study (TWAS) integrating 452 human brain transcriptomes investigated whether cis-effects on protein abundance extended to the transcriptome. Single-cell RNA sequencing data and single-nucleus transcriptomic data revealed cell-type specific expression patterns for identified causal genes in the dPFC and dorsal root ganglia (DRG), complemented by RNA microarray analysis of expression profiles in other pain-related brain regions. Of the 22 genes cis-regulating protein abundance identified by the discovery PWAS, 18 (82%) were deemed causal by SMR or COLOC analyses, with 7 of these 18 genes (39%) replicating in the confirmatory PWAS, including GMPPB, which also associated at the transcriptome level. Several causal genes exhibited selective expression in excitatory neurons, inhibitory neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes, while most identified genes were expressed across additional pain-related brain regions. This integrative proteogenomic approach identified 18 high-confidence causal genes for chronic pain, regulated by cis-effects on brain protein levels, suggesting promising avenues for treatment research and indicating a contributory role for the DRG. PERSPECTIVE: The current post-GWAS analyses identified 18 high-confidence causal genes regulating chronic pain risk via cis-modulation of brain protein abundance, suggesting promising avenues for future chronic pain therapies. Additionally, the significant expression of these genes in the DRG indicated a potential contributory role, warranting further investigation.