The “carrot hair” feel less pain than those who are blond, dark or brown: it is the unexpected “superpower” of those with red hair demonstrated by a research published in Science Advances by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, according to which the merit would be in a hormonal “side effect” of the genetic mutation responsible for the color of hair and hair.

Study in mice

The investigation was conducted on tawny mice that, like carrot-skinned humans, have a specific genetic mutation in pigment-producing cells, skin and hair melanocytes. On the surface of these cells are receptors that respond to circulating melanocortin, a hormone produced in the pituitary that induces the synthesis of melanin: melanocortin modifies the production of a yellow / red pigment, pheomelanin, to the classic brown / black melanin. In those who are red, however, the receptor has changed and does not respond to the hormone, so the hair takes on a tawny color and the skin does not tan because it does not produce melanin. What does all this have to do with pain? David Fisher, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cutaneous Biology Research Center, found that the mutation of the red-haired receptor is associated with a lower production of a molecule, proopiomelanocortin, which is then split into two hormones with opposite effects on sensitivity to pain: one reduces it by acting on the opioid receptors, the other increases it by acting on other receptors for melanocortin involved in the perception of pain.

Higher threshold

Because the body produces other non-melanocyte-related molecules that activate opioid receptors to block pain, the overall effect of this drop in ‘signals’ for melanocortin receptors is an increase in signaling through the receptors for melanocortin. opioids, which reduce pain sensitivity. “Consequently, opioid transmission ‘wins’ and those who are red feel less pain,” summarizes Fisher. «All this confirms that each of us has a different pain threshold and that this can also depend on elements such as pigmentation and hair color. Furthermore, it suggests that drugs aimed at inhibiting melanocortin receptors could be used to modulate pain sensitivity and as pain relievers: better understanding the signals that regulate pain perception in the skin and opioid receptors could lead us to identify new ones. strategies to manage pain in patients, always taking into account individual differences ».

April 11, 2021 (change April 11, 2021 | 17:19)

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