A team of researchers from around the world, led by TwinsUK’s Professor Frances Williams, has discovered three new genes linked to the development of chronic back pain. In a huge study of 440,000 people, ranging from 50 to 76 years old, the team studied the whole genome to look at genes that contribute to chronic back pain. They discovered that the genetics of back pain is very complex, with numerous different genes having an effect; however a group of three genes had a noticeably bigger effect.
The researchers had thought they would find that pain-related genes would be the main genes associated with chronic back pain. However, they instead found that the strongest link was with three genes involved in bone and intervertebral disc development. Crucially this suggests that degeneration of the spine influences chronic back pain, which is in line with previous TwinsUK research showing that spine degeneration predicts back pain episodes.
Spine degeneration is something that happens to us all as we age. The team hopes that further research into the three new genes will enable them to target new treatments to slow down the ageing process in the spine and therefore prevent long-term back pain.