Your cholesterol level has a link to how you feel physical pain. Here is how

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Recent research led by Scott B. Hansen, Ph.D., at The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology, sheds light on the unexpected involvement of cholesterol in pain perception.

Published in the scientific journal eLife, the study delves into how physical pressure on cells can diminish pain signals, while excessive cholesterol clumps in cell membranes could disrupt this crucial process.

Hansen, an associate professor of molecular medicine at The Wertheim UF Scripps Institute, underscored the significance of their findings, stating, “Excess cholesterol is a feature in many diseases and disorders, including diabetes and diseases of ageing. This could be one explanation for why we see more chronic pain in these groups.”

The research marks a pivotal milestone by unveiling the intricate role of cell membrane lipids in transmitting electrical pulses following pressure and force, elucidating the pathway of pain signals from injury sites to the brain.

Hansen said, “It looks like the lipids can be added to that list,” referring to the conventional understanding that only proteins possess structures with function.

Advanced microscopy techniques reveal that cell membranes are not mere fatty sacs but assemblies of sensors, cholesterol clumps, channels, and receptors held together by precisely arranged fat molecules.

The study highlighted how membrane lipids sense force, converting it into signals that activate the body’s pain-relieving responses, thereby diminishing pain severity, provided there is no interference.

By understanding how inflammation may affect membrane cholesterol structure, especially in brain cells, the research opens avenues for investigating the pain-inflammation link and developing novel pain therapeutics.

Hansen concluded, “Understanding what factors set the threshold for pain is an important step toward that goal.”

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