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Cause of sunburn pain identified

Cause of sunburn pain identified Could lead to new pain relief treatments

Scientists have identified a molecule which they say controls the skin's sensitivity to pain caused by sunburn.

In a very simple experiment, researchers from King's College, London, exposed small patches of skin on healthy volunteers to UVB radiation - one of the components of sunlight which can cause sunburn. Over a few days following exposure the scientists took samples from the skin and analysed them in detail.

They found that in some cases there was an over-abundance of certain molecules which play a part in the body's response to skin damage. These molecules, called CXCL5, respond to injury by recruiting inflammatory immune cells to the injured tissue, triggering pain and tenderness.

By carrying out further investigations using rats, the researchers found that introducing an antibody that targets CXCL5 significantly reduced the pain experienced in sunburn. Although the antibody is not suitable for general use in humans, this result does show that treatment is possible and provides a signpost to further research in this area.

Commenting on the results, Professor Steve McMahon of the London Pain Consortium said: "These findings have shown for the first time the important role of this particular molecule in controlling pain from exposure to UVB irradiation."

He held out the hope that this work could lead to new treatments for other painful conditions: "But this study isn't just about sunburn - we hope that we have identified a potential target which can be utilised to understand more about pain in other inflammatory conditions like arthritis and cystitis."

The study introduced a new twist into the way in which scientists investigate the human body.

"Traditionally scientists have first studied the biology of diseases in animal models to identify mechanisms relevant to creating that state. But this often does not translate into effective treatments in the clinic. What we have done is reverse this traditional method by identifying putative mediators in humans first, and then exploring this further in rats," Dr David Bennett of King's College Hospital said.

The study is published in Science Translational Medicine and was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

This article was published on Thu 7 July 2011

Image © Jovanovic Jasmina -

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