Prioritizing Pain-Associated Targets with Machine Learning

Biochemistry. 2021 May 11;60(18):1430-1446. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.0c00930. Epub 2021 Feb 19.


While hundreds of genes have been associated with pain, much of the molecular mechanisms of pain remain unknown. As a result, current analgesics are limited to few clinically validated targets. Here, we trained a machine learning (ML) ensemble model to predict new targets for 17 categories of pain. The model utilizes features from transcriptomics, proteomics, and gene ontology to prioritize targets for modulating pain. We focused on identifying novel G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), ion channels, and protein kinases because these proteins represent the most successful drug target families. The performance of the model to predict novel pain targets is 0.839 on average based on AUROC, while the predictions for arthritis had the highest accuracy (AUROC = 0.929). The model predicts hundreds of novel targets for pain; for example, GPR132 and GPR109B are highly ranked GPCRs for rheumatoid arthritis. Overall, gene-pain association predictions cluster into three groups that are enriched for cytokine, calcium, and GABA-related cell signaling pathways. These predictions can serve as a foundation for future experimental exploration to advance the development of safer and more effective analgesics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / chemistry*
  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Discovery
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Models, Biological
  • Pain / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics