The Mouse Trap

How and what we measure in animal studies of pain has huge implications for clinical translation. We speak with Jeffrey Mogil, E. P. Taylor Professor of Pain Studies and Canada Research Chair in the Genetics of Pain at McGill University, Quebec, Canada, to find out more.

What is the focus of your work?

Pain is the most prevalent – and arguably the most important – human health problem in the world. It’s also a huge scientific challenge; studying it has a range of unique problems.

Up until a few years ago, my research focused almost exclusively on the genetics of pain, but in recent years it has become more diverse. We have major focuses on sex differences in pain, developing new models and measures of pain, in addition to social modulation of pain, in both mice and humans. Our results so far tell us that the way we conduct both animal and human studies in pain has a lot of room for improvement.

Can you provide an example?

It is now known that there are huge and surprising sex differences in pain. In a study published last year, we found that male and female mice process certain types of pain using different immune cells altogether (1). And yet a lot of animal studies use only male rodents, on the incorrect assumption that data from females will be more variable. In many cases then, we have been studying only one of two parallel pathways – completely ignoring the pathway that applies to women, who make up the vast majority of pain patients. I firmly believe that all researchers should be using animals of both sexes all the time.