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Papers: 1 Jun 2024 - 7 Jun 2024

2024 Jun 03



Editor's Pick

Nociceptors are functionally male or female: from mouse to monkey to man.


Stratton H, Lee G, Dolatyari M, Ghetti A, Cotta T, Mitchell S, Yue X, Ibrahim M, Dumaire N, Salih L, Moutal A, François-Moutal L, Martin L, Navratilova E, Porreca F


The prevalence of many pain conditions often differs between sexes. In addition to such quantitative distinctions, sexual dimorphism may also be qualitative reflecting differences in mechanisms that promote pain in men and women. A major factor that influences the likelihood of pain perception is the threshold for activation of nociceptors. Peripheral nociceptor sensitization has been demonstrated to be clinically relevant in many pain conditions. Whether peripheral nociceptor sensitization can occur in a sexually dimorphic fashion, however, has not been extensively studied. To address this fundamental knowledge gap, we used patch clamp electrophysiology to evaluate the excitability of dorsal root ganglion neurones from male or female rodents, non-human primates, and humans following exposure to putative sensitizing agents. Previous studies from our laboratory, and others, have shown that prolactin promotes female-selective pain responses in rodents. Consistent with these observations, dorsal root ganglion neurones from female, but not male, mice were selectively sensitized by exposure to prolactin. The sensitizing action of prolactin was also confirmed in dorsal root ganglion neurones from a female macaque monkey. Critically, neurones recovered from female, but not male, human donors were also selectively sensitized by prolactin. In the course of studies of sleep and pain, we unexpectedly observed that an orexin antagonist could normalize pain responses in male animals. We found that orexin B produced sensitization of male, but not female, mouse, macaque, and human dorsal root ganglion neurones. Consistent with functional responses, increased prolactin receptor and orexin receptor 2 expression was observed in female and male mouse dorsal root ganglia, respectively. Immunohistochemical interrogation of cultured human sensory neurones and whole dorsal root ganglia also suggested increased prolactin receptor expression in females and orexin receptor 2 expression in males. These data reveal a functional double dissociation of nociceptor sensitization by sex, which is conserved across species and is likely directly relevant to human pain conditions. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of functional sexual dimorphism in human sensory neurones. Patient sex is currently not a common consideration for the choice of pain therapy. Precision medicine, based on patient sex could improve therapeutic outcomes by selectively targeting mechanisms promoting pain in women or men. Additional implications of these findings are that the design of clinical trials for pain therapies should consider the proportions of male or female patients enrolled. Lastly, re-examination of selected past failed clinical trials with subgroup analysis by sex may be warranted.