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Why people with natural red hair feel pain differently?

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An international team of scientists has found out why humans with naturally red hair are more sensitive to pain. 

It is known that people with natural red hair, like many animals with red fur, have an increased pain threshold and sensitivity to opioid analgesics. 

Scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, the University of Szeged in Hungary, the Herty Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Germany, the city universities of Nagoya and Osaka in Japan conducted a study to find out the causes of this phenomenon.

Modifications of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) are responsible for red hair and fur. It is also associated with a higher pain threshold than humans and animals with different hair and fur color. 

Loss of MC1R functionality is responsible for lower levels of proopiomelanocortin, a complex polypeptide synthesized by corticotropic cells in the anterior pituitary gland and melanotropic cells in the middle lobe of the pituitary gland.

Proopiomelanocortin is broken down into various hormones, some of which are sensitive to pain, while others block it. This maintains a balance between opioid receptors, which suppress pain, and melanocoritin 4 receptors, which increase pain. 

Low levels of both hormones in mice with ginger fur (they were the ones who participated in the study), it would seem, should neutralize each other.

But the body, as it turned out in the new work, produces additional substances not associated with melanocytes, which alter the signaling of opioid receptors involved in blocking pain sensitivity. 

Therefore, a lower level of hormones associated with melanocytes modifies opioid signals, which increases the pain threshold.

Scientists suggest that these results can be transferred to humans since the same mechanisms and receptors operate in their bodies. 

The results of the study, in their opinion, will be useful for managing the natural processes that control pain perception. For example, for the development of new drugs that inhibit melanocortin 4 receptors, which are involved in pain perception.

The work was published in the journal Science Advances.

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