Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Although most back pain cases are acute, 20% of acute pain patients experience chronic back pain symptoms. It is unclear whether acute pain and chronic pain have similar or distinct underlying genetic mechanisms.
To characterize the molecular and cellular pathways contributing to acute and chronic pain states.
Cross-sectional observational genome-wide association study.
A total of 375,158 individuals from the UK Biobank cohort were included in the discovery of genome-wide association study. Of those, 70,633 (19%) and 32,209 (9%) individuals met the definition of chronic and acute back pain, respectively. A total of 355 single nucleotide polymorphism grouped into 13 loci reached the genome-wide significance threshold (5×10-8) for chronic back pain, but none for acute. Of these, 7 loci were replicated in the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT) cohort (19,760 chronic low back pain cases and 28,674 pain-free controls). Single nucleotide polymorphism heritability was 4.6% (P=1.4×10-78) for chronic back pain and 0.81% (P=1.4×10-8) for acute back pain. Similar differences in heritability estimates between acute and chronic back pain were found in the HUNT cohort: 3.4% (P=0.0011) and 0.6% (P=0.851), respectively. Pathway analyses, tissue-specific heritability enrichment analyses, and epigenetic characterization suggest a substantial genetic contribution to chronic but not acute back pain from the loci predominantly expressed in the central nervous system.
Chronic back pain is substantially more heritable than acute back pain. This heritability is mostly attributed to genes expressed in the brain.
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