New research pinpoints three genes responsible for skeletal development that appear to be connected to chronic back pain.
The study authors said their findings could shed new light on the biological factors involved in the development of the condition and lead to new treatments for back pain, which is the leading cause of disability around the world.
For the study, an international team of researchers conducted a genome-wide association to search for gene variants associated with back pain. The study involved 158 000 adults of European ancestry. Of these participants, more than 29 000 suffered from chronic back pain.
The scientists identified three new genetic variants linked to chronic back pain. The SOX5 gene, which is involved in nearly all phases of embryonic development, had the strongest link to the condition.
Previous animal studies have shown that deactivation of this variant is linked to defects in cartilage and skeleton formation in mice.
The study also showed that another gene, which has been associated with intervertebral disc herniation (commonly called a slipped disc), was also linked to back pain. The researchers also identified a third gene involved in spinal cord development, which could affect the risk for back pain due to its influence on pain sensation.
The findings were published September 27 in the journal PLOS Genetics.
"The results of our genome-wide association study point to multiple pathways that may influence risk for chronic back pain," said study leader Dr Pradeep Suri, of the US Department of Veterans Affairs in Seattle.
"Chronic back pain is linked to changes in mood, and the role of the central nervous system in the transition from acute to chronic back pain is well-recognised," he said in a journal news release.
"However, the top two genetic variants we identified suggest causes implicating the peripheral structures, such as the spine," Suri added.
"We expect that further large-scale genetic studies will reveal the importance of both peripheral and central contributors to the complex experience of chronic back pain.
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