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How Did Neanderthals Experience Pain?

Monday, July 27, 2020

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—A new study of three Neanderthal genomes has found that they each carried three mutations on one gene on both sets of chromosomes that may have made the individuals predisposed to a heightened sense of pain, according to a Nature News report. Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology explained that while very rare in modern humans, the mutations, which are involved in altering the shape of a protein that carries painful sensations to the spinal cord and brain, may have been common in Neanderthals. Pääbo and his colleagues then looked for evidence of the Neanderthal mutation in a British database of modern genomes. None of the database participants had two copies of the mutated gene, as the Neanderthals did, but those who had one copy were about seven percent more likely to report having pain than people without the mutation. The researchers note that how the signal was processed in the spinal cord and brain would have also contributed to how Neanderthals experienced pain. Further study of additional Neanderthal genomes will investigate if the mutation might have been a beneficial adaptation. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

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