Understanding how chickens tolerate the taste of spicy peppers could result in a better way to manage pain in humans.
The pain receptors of chickens and other birds don’t sense capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers that make it taste spicy. Some poultry farmers even put capsaicin in their poultry feed to deter squirrels, mice and other pests. As an added benefit, capsaicin increases enzyme secretion, which improves feed digestibility in chicken.
“What’s interesting is that the receptor has more of a role in pain regulation than just the sensation you have while eating a hot pepper,” Eric Gross, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine, Stanford University, told WATTPoultry.
“Maybe there’s a possibility we can learn something from that. Maybe there’s a way we can actually dial down the pain that people feel for a lot of different diseases that trigger inflammation.”
Discovering the genetic pathway
Using a computational approach and cell cultures, his team found a specific genetic variant in chickens, known as transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 or TRPV1, that reduced the receptor’s reaction to capsaicin.
In preclinical testing, laboratory mice with the same gene mutation showed an approximately 50% reduction in pain.
This gene variant is extremely rare in people, so the good news is that the researchers were also able to design a potential drug treatment that replicates the effects of the altered gene.
There’s still a long road ahead before the drug could be used in humans. It still has to undergo several rounds of preclinical and clinical testing to ensure that it is safe for use.
“It’s really important to do the right clinical trials and make sure that things are going in the right direction, rather than giving something out that will cause harm,” explained Gross.
Prior to my time writing about the poultry industry, I covered biomedical research. To me, both are vitally important industries that are profoundly misunderstood by the average consumer, so it’s interesting when the two worlds come together.
Chickens aren’t a common animal model, but they’ve made some valuable contributions to improving our understanding of human health. For example, a recent study used chicks to discover more about the causes of autism.The research was published February 1 in theJournal of Clinical Investigation.