A new era of pain research unfolds
pain is a relatively new and rapidly expanding research field that
represents an advanced step from conventional pain research. Molecular
pain research addresses physiological and pathological pain at the
cellular, subcellular and molecular levels. Michael Caterina and
The word pain is thought to derive from the Latin word poena, meaning
punishment. An emotional reaction to a punishment might have been what
Aristotle experienced, as he defined pain as an emotional event.
René Descartes, the 17thcentury philosopher and scientist, pictured a
pain pathway consisting of a thread with two ends: one end is in a
peripheral part of the body, for example a toe, and the other end is a
bell in the brain. According to this picture, fire touching a toe pulls
the thread, and rings the bell to sound a warning in the brain.
Over the past decades, and in the current Decade of Pain Control and
Research (2001- 2010), pain research has undergone major changes, from a
system level to cellular, subcellular and molecular levels. A new era of
molecular pain research is now emerging, and the journal Molecular Pain
is dedicated to this modern phase of pain research. Recent advances in
pain research are in large part due to the rapid progress in
neuroscience, molecular biology, and other fields in the life sciences.
Breakthroughs in biomedical technologies have allowed us to address many
important issues about pain, enriching our knowledge about the
mechanisms by which sensory signals including pain are initiated,
encoded, conducted, transmitted, modulated, and perceived.
For example, sensory molecular biology has led to the molecular cloning
and identification of a number of receptors involved in
thermal, mechanical, and nociceptive signalling at the periphery, some
of which have been targeted for pain management. Modern
electrophysiology has been used to demonstrate the critical roles of
synaptic plasticity in pain processing in the spinal cord and the brain.
Long-term potentiation and long-term depression at synapses of central
sensory regions have delineated the ‘memory of pain’ by neuronal
circuitry along pain transmitting pathways.
Functional imaging of supraspinal areas has pharmaceurevealed central
areas related to pain processing (for example, areas coding behavioural
learning and memory) and, more significantly, it has now become possible
to see the alteration of these signalling pathways under chronic pain
Finally, genomics and proteomics have been applied to pain research to
help identify the changes in the array of molecules present in cells
under chronic pain conditions. Research within all these fields will
provide a better understanding of the physiological and pathological
mechanisms of pain.
Pain research at the cellular, subcellular, and molecular levels has
provided insights that help guide the treatment and management of
intractable pain conditions including neuropathic pain, cancer pain and
other chronic pain conditions. At the same time, these efforts continue
to provide scientific insights into an inherently fascinating biological
New molecules related to pain continue to be cloned and identified. It
should be stressed that a ‘non-pain molecule’ under physiological
conditions can become a ‘pain molecule’ under pathological conditions.
This might be an underlying mechanism for spontaneous pain or pain
sensation elicited by innocuous stimuli. Thus, the aims of molecular
pain research should include ‘non-pain molecules’. One big task facing
us is that many of the pain-related genes or proteins that have been
identified are also important for other neuronal functions in the spinal
cord and the brain. Pain triggers various responses in the spinal cord
and the brain, including reflexes, conscious perception, cognitive
learning and memory processes, emotional reaction such as depression,
and drug addiction.
Thus, molecules that are associated with pain are not only those located
on the peripheral nerve endings for the sensing and encoding of stimuli,
but also molecules that are present along sensory paths from the spinal
cord to the brain for integrating and modulating sensory information.
Molecular targets at different levels along sensory pathways are key to
future identification of new drugs and therapies that effectively manage
intractable pain conditions with low side effects. Molecular pain
research will offer new opportunities for drug development in the
pharmaceurevealed tical industry and improved treatment options in the
In our journey to explore pain mechanisms and to identify effective
targets for pain management, it is important for scientists around the
world to have a rapid and freely accessible forum for exchanging ideas,
debating hot topics, developing collaborations, promoting science, and
improving pain medicine. Molecular Pain, a peerreviewed, Open Access
online journal, will help to fulfil these goals. Although several
existing journals publish articles on classical pain research, none are
specifically dedicated to molecular pain research. The journal’s Open
Access policy changes the way in which articles are published. Firstly,
all articles become freely and universally accessible online, and so an
author's work can be read by anyone at no cost. Secondly, the authors
hold copyright for their work and grant anyone the right to reproduce
and disseminate the article, provided that it is correctly cited and no
errors are introduced. Thirdly, a copy of the full text of each Open
Access article is permanently archived in an online repository separate
from the journal. Molecular Pain’s articles are archived in the US
National Library of Medicine's full-text repository of life science
literature and the National Library of the Netherlands’ digital archive
of all electronic publications.
The editorial board say they aim to publish papers in a timely fashion.
Each manuscript will be peer reviewed by two experts, and the review
process is anticipated to be completed within three weeks. Once
accepted, papers will be published online immediately, and they will be
listed in PubMed as soon as possible after publication.