Neanderthals May Have Been Super Sensitive to Pain

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Neanderthals May Have Been More Sensitive to Pain Than Most Humans

by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com

A new study of Neanderthal DNA suggests our species’ extinct relatives may have been particularly sensitive to pain, reports Ewen Callaway for Nature.

Neanderthals disappeared some 40,000 years ago, but some humans living today retain bits of Neanderthal DNA—evidence that our species once interbred. Though they hunted large, dangerous animals—including bison, mammoths and cave bears—in frigid climes, Neanderthals may be the source of a genetic variant associated with increased sensitivity to pain in modern humans, according to the new research published last week in the journal Current Biology.

Researchers looking to compare Neanderthals’ DNA to modern humans have historically only had a few low resolution genomes to choose from. But the team behind the new paper were able to produce three high-quality Neanderthal genomes from genetic material recovered from caves in Croatia and Russia, per Nature.

Researchers found a mutation to a gene called SCN9A that encodes a protein involved in sending pain signals to the spinal cord and brain on both chromosomes of all the Neanderthal genomes. Its presence on both chromosomes of all three genomes suggests it was common in the Neanderthal population, according to Nature.

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