Newswise — London (January 10, 2020)—New research shows how second-degree burns cause hard-to-treat chronic pain, and this understanding may be key to treating these complications, common in war veterans. This research, published in Physiological Reports, suggests that burns cause changes to neurons in multiple parts of the spinal cord, even far from the injury site, which can contribute to chronic pain and other long-term complications.

Second degree burns initially only affects layers of the skin, specifically the top and second layers. More than 11 million individuals per year around the world suffer burn injuries severe enough to require hospitalization and long-term care (1).  

65.6% veterans in the US reported having pain in the three months before they were surveyed with 9.1% classified as having severe pain. Severe pain was 40 percent greater in veterans than non-veterans, especially among those who served in recent conflicts (2).

Treatment of burns normally entails localised treatment at the site of the burn, but this doesn’t address problems that the burn may cause in other parts of the body, such as the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), which is crucial for fully treating the burn and possible neurological complications, such as neuropathic pain.

An exciting discovery from this work was the identification of an existing clinical drug targeting PAK1, called romidepsin, which is already used in cancer treatment. One promising avenue of study is looking at “re-purposing” this drug in targeting chronic pain associated with burn injuries.

Andrew Tan, senior author on the study said:

“This research has exciting potential to provide a new avenue for speeding up the development of new treatments for long-lasting complications that often follow burn injury. Having a treatment that would not only treat the acute injury, but long-lasting complications could have a big impact on clinicians’ treatment of burns, including battlefield injured-veterans."

Notes for Editors

  1. Latarjet J and Choiniere M. Pain in burn patients. Burns 1995; 21: 344-348.
  3. Full paper title: Spinal Cord Motor Neuron Plasticity Accompanies Second-Degree Burn Injury and Chronic Pain
  4. Physiological Reports publishes advances in physiology which increase our understanding of how our bodies function in health and disease.
  5. The Physiological Society brings together over 4,000 scientists from over 60 countries. The Society promotes physiology with the public and parliament alike. It supports physiologists by organising world-class conferences and offering grants for research and also publishes the latest developments in the field in its three leading scientific journals, The Journal of PhysiologyExperimental Physiology and Physiological


The Physiological Society:

Julia Turan, Communications Manager

[email protected]

+44 (0)20 7269 5727 

Corresponding author:

Andrew M. Tan

Tel: 203-932-5711 x3663

[email protected]

Journal Link: Physiological Reports