… But what if you couldn’t feel pain?
Revising pain pathways at the moment, and I found this rare case very interesting. Ashlyn Blocker has mutations in the SCN9A gene, which belongs to a set of genes that give instructions for making sodium channels, and influence a cell’s ability to transmit and generate signals. Our reactions to pain are caused by nociceptors (pain receptors) in the skin, which are activated by tissue damage, and send signals via peripheral nerves to the brain through the spinal chord. These signals are generated by molecular channels produced by the SCN9A gene, so Ashlyn’s mutation stops the gene from making the channel, meaning that electrical impulses aren’t produced.
At first I was like “Being unable to feel pain would be AWESOME,” but reading more about it, it really isn’t awesome. People with these mutations could literally be dying and not know due to not feeling any symptoms… whoa.
Heckert, J. (2012). The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/magazine/ashlyn-blocker-feels-no-pain.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Last accessed Tuesday 20th May.
Genetics Home Reference. (2014). SCN9A. Available: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/SCN9A. Last accessed Tuesday 20th May.