Background: The triallelic serotonin transporter gene linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) has been associated with alterations in thermal pain perception. The primary aim of this study was to investigate the associations between heat pain (HP) perception and the triallelic 5-HTTLPR in a large cohort of adults with chronic pain.Methods: The cohort included 277 adults with chronic pain who met inclusion criteria, and were consecutively admitted to an outpatient pain rehabilitation program from March 2009 through March 2010. Individuals were genotyped for the triallelic 5-HTTLPR (including rs25531) and categorized as high, intermediate, or low expressors of the serotonin transporter. Standardized measures of HP perception were obtained using a validated quantitative sensory test method of levels.Results: The distribution of the high, intermediate, and low expressing genotypes was 61 (22%), 149 (54%) and 67 (24%), respectively. The Hardy-Weinberg P-value was 0.204 which indicated no departure from equilibrium. A significant effect of genotype was observed for values of HP threshold (P = 0.029). Individual group comparisons showed that values of HP threshold were significantly greater in the intermediate compared to the high expressing group (P = 0.009) but not the low expressing group (P > 0.1). In a multiple variable linear regression model, the intermediate group (P = 0.034) and male sex (P = 0.021) were associated with significantly greater values of HP 0.5, but no significant genotype-by-sex interaction effect was observed.Conclusions: In this study that involved adults with chronic pain, the intermediate triallelic 5-HTTLPR expressing group, but not the low expressing group, was associated with greater HP thresholds compared to the high expressing group.
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