Relationship of 5-HTTLPR Polymorphism with Various Factors of Pain Processing: Subjective Experience, Motor Responsiveness and Catastrophizing

Miriam Kunz*, Juergen Hennig, Anna J. Karmann, Stefan Lautenbacher

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Although serotonin is known to play an important role in pain processing, the relationship between the polymorphism in 5-HTTLPR and pain processing is not well understood. To examine the relationship more comprehensively, various factors of pain processing having putative associations with 5-HT functioning were studied, namely the subjective pain experience (pain threshold, rating of experimental pain), catastrophizing about pain (Pain Catastrophizing Scale = PCS) and motor responsiveness (facial expression of pain). In 60 female and 67 male participants, heat pain stimuli were applied by a contact thermode to assess pain thresholds, supra-threshold ratings and a composite score of pain-relevant facial responses. Participants also completed the PCS and were grouped based on their 5-HTTLPR genotype (bi-allelic evaluation) into a group with s-allele carriers (ss, sl) and a second group without (ll). S-allele carriers proved to have lower pain thresholds and higher PCS scores. These two positive findings were unrelated to each other. No other difference between genotype groups became significant. In all analyses, "age" and "gender" were controlled for. In s-allele carriers the subjective pain experience and the tendency to catastrophize about pain was enhanced, suggesting that the s-allele might be a risk factor for the development and maintenance of pain. This risk factor seems to act via two independent routes, namely via the sensory processes of subjective pain experiences and via the booster effects of pain catastrophizing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0153089
    Number of pages12
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 4-Apr-2016

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