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Study Shows Potential RNA Mimic Technology Can Block Pain


Researchers have developed a method of reducing pain-associated behaviors through the creation of decoy molecules that prevent pain after injury.

Through RNA-based medicine, researchers have developed a method of reducing pain-associated behaviors through the creation of decoy molecules that prevent pain after injury, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

“Pain is a pervasive and devastating problem,” Zachary Campbell, PhD, director of the Laboratory of RNA Control at the University of Texas at Dallas, said in a statement. “It’s the most prominent reason why Americans seek medical attention. Poorly treated pain causes enormous human suffering, as well as a tremendous burden on medical care systems and our society.”

Campbell conducted the research alongside Ted Price, PhD, associate professor from the Neurobiology Research Group, and Michael Burton, PhD, assistant professor from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Campbell along with other researchers believed that pain could be blocked by interrupting the pain-protein synthesis that is coded in mRNA facilitates within the genome. This will reduce inflammation and impair pain behaviors. The team designed an RNA mimic that was injected on mouse models which showed positive results on reducing pain.

“We’re manipulating one step of protein synthesis,” Campbell explained. “Our results indicate that local treatment with the decoy can prevent pain and inflammation brought about by a tissue injury.”

The researchers found great difficulty in working with the RNA-based compound as the rapid metabolism of the molecules had them degrading quickly within the cells. However, the study found more information on nociceptors, specialized nerve cells that communicate with the brain in response to thermal, chemical, or mechanical stimuli.

Campbell also finds that this new therapy is a step in the right direction by moving away from prescribed pain medications that affect the reward center of the brain. “The ongoing opioid crisis highlights the need for pain treatments that don’t create addictions,” he said. “Hopefully, this is a step in that direction.”

This RNA mimic technology is the first of its kind that will be able to treat a variety of medical issues in the future.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to create a chemically stabilized mimic to competitively inhibit RNA to disrupt RNA-protein interactions,” he said. “Our approach suggests that targeting those interactions may provide a new source of pharmacological agents. This proof of concept allows us to open a whole new area of science by virtue of the route that we’re attacking it.”


Barragán-Iglesias P, Lou TF, Bhat VD, et al. Inhibition of Poly(A)-binding protein with a synthetic RNA mimic reduces pain sensitization in mice. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1). doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02449-5.

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