A Neanderthal Sodium Channel Increases Pain Sensitivity in Present-Day Humans
The sodium channel Nav1.7 is crucial for impulse generation and conduction in peripheral pain pathways . In Neanderthals, the Nav1.7 protein carried three amino acid substitutions (M932L, V991L, and D1908G) relative to modern humans. We expressed Nav1.7 proteins carrying all combinations of these substitutions and studied their electrophysiological effects. Whereas the single amino acid substitutions do not affect the function of the ion channel, the full Neanderthal variant carrying all three substitutions, as well as the combination of V991L with D1908G, shows reduced inactivation, suggesting that peripheral nerves were more sensitive to painful stimuli in Neanderthals than in modern humans. We show that, due to gene flow from Neanderthals, the three Neanderthal substitutions are found in ∼0.4% of present-day Britons, where they are associated with heightened pain sensitivity.