Painfully Sensitive To Pain? It’s The Neanderthal In You

A mutated Neanderthal gene is responsible for feeling more pain
Photo Credit: Jim De Ramos /Pexels

And you are not alone! According to a database study conducted using half a million British people, researchers found that a portion of 0.4 of them have inherited a sensitive side of the Neanderthals’. It is a mutated Neanderthal gene copy found to be responsible for making them feel more pain.

Although Neanderthals separated from modern-day humans roughly around 500,000 years ago, there is evidence that late in the history they mixed with modern humans. That is why even today many people carry up to 2% of Neanderthal genes in their genome, making some of them resilient to illnesses or making their head shape different and so on. For some time, Evolutionary geneticists have been keeping an eye on a Neanderthal gene that could generate impulses in nerves making them feel more pain. 

This particular gene SCN9A, is responsible for making a protein called, ‘Nav1.7’.  The protein is situated inside a nerve cell’s membrane and working as a passage for Sodium ultimately mediating pain sensation. Scientists found that there is a mutation on this SCN9A gene where 3 amino acids would change in the resulting protein. So, the ‘gain-of-function’ mutations of this gene make the carrier with dominant pain and sensory symptoms, like a volumed-up situation of a volume button. On the other hand, people with ‘loss-of-function’ mutations on this gene may experience insensitivity to pain and anosmia, a condition of failure to sense smell. 

Some believe that this type of mutation might have come in handy with our ancient cousins to remind them that they should rest when an injury occurs, which would have been pretty common with their lifestyle.

Thanks to the revolutionary advances in sequencing technology, geneticists now have the ability to study these ancient gene work extensively. And the search for clues continues.