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Background: Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is a common and increasingly prevalent condition that is one of the primary causes of chronic pain. Staying physically active protects against disability from knee OA but is also very challenging. A critical but unexamined question is whether patients at greatest risk for becoming less active are those with a genetic predisposition for greater sensitivity to daily pain.

Aims: We examined day-to-day variability in knee OA pain for patients with different variants of catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) and mu-opioid receptor (OPRM1) single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and whether patients with a specific genotype experience more pain following daily physical activity. We predicted that patients having one or more copies of the Met158 allele of COMT rs4680 (A-A or A-G) and one or more copies of the Asp40 allele of OPRM1 rs1799971 (A-G or G-G) would show greater pain variability. We expected to see the same pattern for these SNPs with regard to moderation (i.e., exacerbation) of the activity-pain association.

Methods: A total of 120 knee OA patients reported on their pain 3 times per day over 22 days using handheld computers, and wore an accelerometer to capture daily physical activity. Multilevel modelling was used to examine the magnitude of within-person variability in pain by genetic group. We also examined whether lagged, within-patient associations between level of activity in the afternoon (i.e., minutes of moderate intensity activity, and number of steps) and knee pain at the end-of-day were moderated by between-patient differences in genotype.

Results: Regarding OPRM1 rs1799971 (Asn40Asp), patients with two copies of the Asn40 allele showed the greatest day-to-day pain variability. Regarding COMT rs4680 (Val158Met), patients with the Val/Val genotype showed the greatest pain variability and also experienced the greatest increase in pain as a result of physical activity. A similar pattern of findings across bi-directional temporal lags was consistent with a negative feedback loop between daily physical activity and pain according to genotype. Consistent with some previous studies, there were no significant between-person differences in daily pain when comparing patients according to COMTrs4680, or OPRM1 rs1799971.

Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence that patients with certain genotypes for COMT rs4680 and OPRM1 rs1799971 (G-G and A-A, respectively) experience more variability in their day-today pain and exacerbation of pain after daily physical activity compared to patients with other genotypes. Our findings should be replicated in larger study populations.

Implications: Previous clinical research has focused primarily on differences in average level of pain between patients with and without a specific genotype. Assessment of within-person variability through repeated measurements in daily life enhances the reliability, power, and ecological validity of phenotypic measurement.

Perspective: This study provides preliminary evidence that patients with certain variations in the COMT and OPRM1 SNPs experience more variability in their day-to-day pain and exacerbation of pain after daily physical activity.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Scandinavian Journal of Pain, v. 10, issue 1, p. 6-12

This article is the post-print author version.

Under a Creative Commons license.