Improving understanding of the pain experienced in temporomandibular disorders

Disease - Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis

Lead applicant - Dr Ikhlas El karim

Organisation - Queen's University Belfast

Type of grant - Research Award

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £142,033.49

Start date - 1 October 2017

Reference - 21541

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone to the skull, and controls the jaw for speech and chewing. Disorders of the TMJ are called temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), for which pain is the most commonly experienced symptom. This means many people with TMDs have limited jaw function that significantly affects their ability to eat and speak. This research project aims to identify whether a protein (TRPA1) found on nerves in and around the joint can be targeted to reduce the pain symptoms in TMDs associated with arthritis.

Why is this research important?

At present, how TMD pain occurs and how to treat it effectively, is unclear. Current research shows that a group of proteins, called TRP proteins, are found on nerves in and around the joint and are important in the pain process of arthritis. These proteins work like a lock, opening in response to certain stimuli to allow transmission of a pain signal from the joint to the brain, and it’s for this reason they could be good targets for development of new painkillers.

By focussing on a specific TRP protein, TRPA1, the researchers will use mice with TMJ arthritis to see how they activate other immune system proteins, called inflammasomes. These are involved in inflammation, which is a key part of the pain felt in arthritis.

How will the findings benefit patients?

Findings of this research will help to see if and how TRPA1 causes pain in TMDs associated with arthritis, and whether it is a suitable target for the development of new pain relieving drugs. Ultimately, understanding pain mechanisms in arthritis, and identifying potential targets for treatment such as this, could lead to the development of new pain relief therapies that are more effective and produce less side effects.