To do this, the researchers utilized a computational approach to locate human genetic variants of TRPV1 that resembled TRPV1 in birds. Then, once the team tested these variants using genetically modified cells, one specific variant stood out from the rest.
The variant, K710N, was found to drastically reduce the pain receptor’s reaction to capsaicin. And according to Gross, this was an unbelievable discovery.
“We were quite amazed that there was such a decrease in the activity of TRPV1’s response to capsaicin when we made that genetic variant. It was to the point where we actually tried this several times to make sure that was really what we were seeing,” he said.
Afterward, the researchers used a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 to create mice that had the K710N mutation.
The team’s plan was to determine whether the mice would consume the capsaicin-laced bird food that typical mice refuse to eat.
The scientists ultimately observed how immediately after the spicy bird food was placed out for the mice, the normal mice tried to avoid touching capsaicin as best as they could. The mutated mice, however, were able to tolerate the capsaicin– and they even sampled a bit of the spiced bird food.
So, by analyzing these differing behavioral responses, Gross and his team estimated that the K710N mutation was able to reduce pain by approximately 50%.
The Science Of Pain Reduction
It is crucial to underscore that the TRPV1 receptors in human sensory neurons are responsible for a lot more than just generating a spicy sensation when we consume chili peppers. Instead, they also regulate body temperature and protect us from danger by responding to other stimuli– including physical injury and heat.
So, according to Gross, it would be unwise to take away anyone’s full ability to sense pain.
“You still want to have somebody, if they place their hand over a hot stove or step on a Lego, to have that pain sensation,” he noted.