New Fungus Among Us

On a bad day, the pain scientists can feel bogged down, the researcher’s equivalent of writer’s block. That is why we include some of the material here on plants. Strange as it sounds, the cure for central pain just might come from one of these weirdo plant chemicals.

Some years ago, one of our authors mentioned to a university physiologist the ability of marine toxins to alter pain perception. He said he would mention it to his research colleague. The next thing we knew, a colleague from that department had sold a patent on a marine toxin to a drug company for a large amount. That’s okay. It is pain relief we are after, NOT money. We are not claiming credit, but are mentioning this as an inducement to any would be millionaires who read here and think.

And so, we are leaking a clue here to the drug company scientists who peruse painonline. First, you will have to learn to pronounce the names of our secret compounds. Get your pencils, okay, personal data devices ready.

We don’t want to be known as an exclusively herb oriented pain site, but it is just so interesting to watch high grade biochemists discover powerful chemicals in harmless appearing plants. They are the PhD shamans of our time. Do they possess secret cures? We hope so.

The curtain seems to be rising on Protein Kinase C as being a major player in chronic pain. Tony Yaksh at Salk/UCSD was perhaps the first known clinical researcher to really focus in on PKC, but things have moved pretty rapidly since then. Unfortunately, the compounds being studied are unpronounceable, unfamiliar, tongue-twisting and impossible to remember, even for the hard core biochemists. One good example is the phorbol ester which is more or less equivalent to protein kinase C, since it activates PKC so readily. This ester is known as PMA, and stands for phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA).

And so we are seeing abbreviations more and more. These abbreviations are an impediment to the layperson who would like a little hope that pain is about to be cured. That is, after all, what the whole thing is about. There are actual humans, thousands of them, weltering away in severe dysesthetic burning, some of them wondering, do I jump off the building now or do I trust that research is really knocking on the door. Yes, we know that central pain burns (along with a lot of other terrible things) horribly and is unbearable in its severe form. Just remember that it is bad form and extremely bad timing to miss out on a cure for central pain by virtue of doing oneself in.

Well, the good news is that really brainy people are in fact hot on the heels of the pain cascade. One of the culprits they are attempting to apprehend is PKC, or protein kinase C, which comes in 10 different isoforms. Commerical antibodies exist against all ten isoforms so researchers are finding themselves challenged to keep things straight. There are enough articles at this site on PKC already to give you a headache, but it is just so darn interesting, so here we go again with another plant article, just when you thought we were about to leave the jungle.

Jay Yang, an M.D. PhD from the Univ. of Rochester has noted that animals bred to lack PKC experience ordinary pain in more or less ordinary amounts: HOWEVER, they are immune from developing neuropathic pain. This should get your curiosity up, as it has Dr. Yang’s and also Dr. Wise Young’s at Rutgers.

Now, the plot thickens. Shen et al have reported in Planta Med. 2006 Feb;72(3):199-203 that the basidiomata (think of it as “some part”) of the fungus Antrodia salmonea, newly discovered in Taiwan, contains four types lanostanes and napthoquinones, known respectively as:

1) lanosta-8,24-diene-3beta,15alpha,21-triol

2) 24-methylenelanost-8-ene-3beta,15alpha,21-triol

3) 2,3-dimethoxy-5-(2′,5′-dimethoxy-3′,4′-methylenedioxyphenyl)-7-methyl-[1,4]-naphthoquinone

4) 2,3-dimethoxy-6-(2′,5′-dimethoxy-3′,4′-methylenedioxyphenyl)-7-methyl-[1,4]-naphthoquinone

We knew you would like that, and we will get back to you on the abbreviations as soon as they think one up.

The point is that these compounds INHIBIT both PKC AND PMA!!!

All four newly discovered compounds are antioxidative (which means they reduce the reactive oxygen species–see ROS at this site) and should therefore be anti-inflammatory. The most important question for us, however, is whether their inhibitory action against PKC might be exploited as a pain medicine.

We admit this is highly premature, but now when you read all the stuff that is coming out about PKC, which is quite possibly at the heart of the development of neuropathic pain, you will know we are now a litte less helpless.

“Thank you” to the bright researchers in Taiwan. And just in case readers think this site has gone completely herbal, take a look at the full chemical names of the things we discuss. Does that look like a herbal site? We didn’t think so.

As hard as we try, we just cannot seem to get away from plants and fungae, cactuses, flowers and bark, ie. the natural world, and back to the entirely synthetic world which seems more in keeping with eradicating pain. If we keep looking hard enough, Nature is going to get the credit for stopping central pain. Hey, the cephalothins, “Keflex” “Cephalexin” etc. were found in a mold in the sewers of Sardinia.

So, take a step back from the edge of the window ledge. It is not as hopeless as it seems. Besides, we love you.