Take 2 studs and call me in the morning (how male docs inhibit pain in mice)

Researchers who were working on the mechanisms of pain began to notice something strange in their test animals. Sometimes, when they injected the animals to produce a painful response, the animals barely responded. They didn’t grimace or lick the site of the injection.

At other times, the animals did grimace and frequently lick the site.

Some of the investigators began to wonder why. They also noticed that, when the humans left the room, the animals then began to display more behaviors to indicate that they were in pain.

Over the course of time the scientists ferreted out the reason. They noted that when only male researchers were present, the mice tended to show lower levels of pain than when only females were present. This behavior was essentially independent of the sex of the mice used.

What was this “of mice and men” response? The researchers were puzzled as to why the mice reacted to male researchers but not to female researchers. They tried an experiment where they left used t-shirts from the researchers with the injected mice. They found that worn male investigators’ t-shirts (minus the male investigator), when left with the mice, caused decreased pain behaviors. T-shirts worn by female investigators, when left with the injected mice, didn’t decrease their pain behaviors.

Something about the scent of a man seemed to cause the mice to ignore their distress.

Tell me if it hurts. (Hot doc via Shutterstock)

Tell me if it hurts. (Hot doc via Shutterstock)

Further study indicates that the testosterone in male sweat inhibited the pain behaviors in mice (females also secrete testosterone in sweat, but in lower quantities.) Similar results were found when they tried placing the mice in bedding that had been used by other male animals that were not mice (e.g., bedding from dogs.) The mice exhibited less pain when in the bedding from male animals, but not the bedding from female animals.

The investigators think that perhaps the smell of testosterone stresses the mice. The stress response may lead to an endorphin-like release in the mouse brain, therefore damping-down the pain sensation. When the testosterone smell (or male investigator) leaves, no more stressor and the pain returns.

They have hypothesized that, perhaps, not showing pain has a survival benefit for mice in the wild. A mouse who displays pain could be viewed by a predator as having been injured. An injured mouse could be viewed as weakened and easier to attack.

This research will need to be repeated in mice and other species to see if it is reproducible. If it does turn out to be correct, it may prove useful in helping to control pain in humans. In the future, when you have a painful injury, the doctor may just say, “Take two studs and call me in the morning.”

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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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49 Responses to “Take 2 studs and call me in the morning (how male docs inhibit pain in mice)”

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  2. docsterx says:

    Let’s just take a look at the “case(s)” you’re trying to present. Let me make a few, of several possible points about your discussion.

    1. You present anecdotal information about research (or lack thereof) on penicillin. You don’t link to any reputable, peer-reviewed journal or other verifiable source. Since you can’t back up your claim, it can’t be taken as factual by anyone who is trying to follow your argument. The same is true about your claim that researchers become wealthy from doing animal experiments. If these are your opinions, that’s fine. But they’re certainly not fact without some further, valid information.

    2. You then begin another argument that is wholly unrelated to the original points that you brought up. That of the effects of steroids on a variety of animal species. Interesting, in that you first claim that animal experimentation provides useless information and then go on to cite the same research as being effective! That is, in #1 above, you say that research is useless, then cite the selfsame research to “prove” your point. Amazingly twisted logic. Again, you cite no data that even remotely demonstrates that what you’re presenting is true. Even if it were, it has no basis on the original case in #1.

    3. You are unaware of what you’ve previously posted. You brought up research on aspirin and morphine in animals, trying to substantiate your claim that animal research is useless (again, without citing the work that you gathered this information from.) When I replied to your statement about aspirin and morphine, you replied that you didn’t know where those drugs entered into the debate. When I replied, told you and supplied a screenshot of your comment, you fell silent.

    You are entitled to your opinions. Even if they are clearly incorrect. Your arguments have no weight because you totally fail to substantiate them with even a scrap of verifiable data. Therefore, they are merely opinions. To expect that anyone would believe them is ridiculous, unless they are gullible in the extreme. Just because you have been taken in by the propaganda that you present does not mean that others will be taken in, as well.

    When you are unable to support either of your initial propositions, you then put forth completely extraneous “data” that has no bearing on the discussion at hand. Making these claims, in light of your assertions in #1, is laughable.

    Being unaware of what you presumably cut and pasted is, at best, sloppy.

    So, you haven’t made a valid case about any of your claims. You expect to be believed simply because you SAY those things are so. Even if your #1 were true for penicillin, that’s no reason to expect that anyone will dismiss the thousands of animal studies that gave good data. That’s why, in a previous reply I mentioned climate change/denial. 97-98% of climate scientists believe that climate change is occurring and that is is caused by humans. You cite one case and expect me to ignore everything else about animal research. That’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    If you want to keep posting unsubstantiated propaganda, you can. If you want to believe things that are untrue, in spite of evidence to the contrary, you can do that, too.


  3. docsterx says:

    Consider the thousands of other drugs. No, that might upset your little paradigm and you’re not open-minded enough for that.

    You forgot “Benghazi.”

  4. will says:

    My point was not whether it could be approved by the ethics committee so much as the spectrum of opinion on which individuals we should be able to deprive of health and liberty.

  5. Rick B says:

    There is no way human research on on those populations could be ethically approved by the research ethics committees these days, The researchers would be ending their careers in research.

  6. will says:

    When you say that the “research could not be performed on humans for ethical reasons” – it depends on who you ask as I have heard people argue that we should test on prisoners, rapists, child molesters and the like.
    Some people value dogs as companions, others value them in cages as nothing more than a means to an end.

  7. will says:

    A broken clock is right twice a day, about the same as the results of animal research.
    Also ad hominem is tiresome and unimaginitive – you can look it up on Wikipedia but basically your PETA dig fits this category – as in
    “Guilt by association can sometimes also be a type of ad hominem fallacy if the argument attacks a source because of the similarity between the views of someone making an argument and other proponents of the argument.[9]”

  8. will says:

    As far as animal testing goes, consider methylprednisolone – a researcher looked at 62 published studies of the drug and found it was effective in cats and dogs, no effect in rats and mice, monkeys yes, sheep no, rabbits were a mix of results.
    Animal research is more superstition than science. And of course, money.

  9. docsterx says:

    You’re right, it’s not complicated. Why even interject that?
    will, just besides penicillin, there are about 7,000 other drugs that have been tested in animals for very good reasons. If you don’t want to accept that, good luck and PETA-bless!

  10. docsterx says:

    Holistic medicine is a waste of money and resources that should be directed toward animal research that can point us toward worthwhile goals in medicine. For example, cancer chemotherapy medications, antiarrythmic drugs, new antibiotics, guidelines for preventative medicine, genetic research and so many other areas of scientific and medical inquiry.

  11. will says:

    It’s not complicated but go ahead and keep trying to present it as such if that is all you have to go on. Penicillin kills guinea pigs and hamsters but has no effect on rabbits. So if it was tested on those animals, researcher would show we should not take it. It’s all a crap shoot and thankfully things in Europe are moving away from animal research.

  12. will says:

    Animal research is a waste of money and resources that should be directed toward a holistic view of health that includes nutrition and exercise and preventative medicine. You may not be making money but rest assured that someone else is – that is how the game is run in our for-profit medicine show.

  13. docsterx says:

    It doesn’t look as if he’s even aware of what he copied and pasted.

  14. docsterx says:

    No, Will, the animal research on penicillin would not have necessarily failed. It would depend upon the type of animal used.

    If you think researchers make a lot of money, you’re mistaken. I spent several months at the CDC and met a number of researchers there, spent time at their homes and with their families. They had mortgages, had to pay for college tuition for their kids, were making car payments, etc. Many of them were senior research staff there and were NOT making the big bucks.

    Will, you can get statistics from a variety of lab experiments whether you use lab animals or not. Some chemists get statistics from doing experiments in vitro, as do most physicists, astronomers, etc.

    Your wild generalizations just don’t apply, nor do they make much sense.

  15. docsterx says:

    The ASA and morphine were mentioned in your comment (above) screenshot included. Not sure why your saying that the comment isn’t yours.

  16. Rick B says:

    Google “The People’s Pharmacy” for home remedies that are not tested to the extent that they could be approved by the FDA. It’s also an NPR radio show conducted by a Ph.D. Pharmacist and his wife a Medical Anthropologist at Duke University. They gather the anecdotes and suggest which one might be useful.

    They suggested the use of cherry juice (from real cherries) as a cure for gout. It worked for me for quire a while, but then the problem got worse.

    My DO prescribed Allopurinol which still controls it. DO’s have a philosophy of treating the entire body, not just the set of presenting symptoms. When I learned that the military accepts either MD’s or DO’s equally I quit the unfounded prejudice against DO’s.

  17. Rick B says:

    I recently reviewed a journal article that did a meta-analysis of the effects of serotonin on aggression. It involved 218 studies on mammals, (including non genetically modified rats), birds and some varieties of fish. No primates. In every species as the level of serotonin dropped below normal aggression increased. The overall regression showed a relationship of 0.30.

    This is a mechanism which is similar across many species. Also, the research could not be performed on humans for ethical reasons. The research also suggested that there were 3 different SSRI;s which were most likely to successfully treat aggression as part of a counseling regimen.

    That is both useful research using animal models and it is research which cannot be done on humans for ethical reasons. Animal models are quite valuable at times like this one.

  18. Rick B says:

    Yeah. I get more emotional around women, too.

  19. Rick B says:

    OK. I think the whole thing is a misreading. Soft-hearted female researchers simply coddle their mice more than male researchers so the mice handled by females play on their sympathy. I know for a fact that my dog does that.

  20. emjayay says:

    “Something about the scent of a man seemed to cause the mice to ignore their distress.”

    Happens to me too.

  21. emjayay says:

    Or, a coincidence.

  22. emjayay says:

    Yeah, there’s a little more difference between fruit flies and humans but – who knew? – somehow researchers have made discoveries about genetics with fruit fly experimentation that add to the understanding of human and other animal genetics and perhaps curing diseases etc.

    Although I think the ignorant of science and just about everything else Sarah Palin used a federal grant for fruit fly research as a talking point.

  23. PeteWa says:

    last I heard, will is right, the differences are too great.
    it’s not like research on growing “ears” on mice has ever helped a Sean G. McCormack or any other human.
    /heavy sarcasm

  24. 4th Turning says:

    Your take on animal testing is very much appreciated. I suspect many who’ve checked themselves
    in on this discussion are alive to read and comment at this moment because of the testing done over these last several years. I am also extremely grateful for those obsessed souls in peta, the Humane Society, Greenpeace, etc. who’ve risked everything (and succeeded) to raise public awareness and consciousness(?) with regard to dreadful/shaming conditions in labs, in industrial farming, in puppy mills, endangered species smuggling, etc.
    My sensibilities were awakened many years ago seeing that beautiful beagle strapped down with
    some sort of phd. designed smoking apparatus clamped into its mouth… How many have been saved due to this specific research cannot even be imagined. I cannot and do not take for granted the enormous sacrifice of so much life for my benefit-and the benefits enjoyed by family and friends.
    Am not sure where we would be right now with hiv-aids were it not for the lives given up on our
    behalf by our chimp cousins. Still, I wept when the few remaining got “pardoned” to live out their lives in sanctuary. Hardly any atonement for our many sins.
    Am reminded of the incomprehensible slaughter Audubon left in his wake to bring us his bird paintings. A fact forever disregarded by succeeding generations who’ve admired the work of a fellow crown of creation.
    If it’s any consolation whatsoever, I can report as a former raptor rehab volunteer tons of lab mice and rats have fed and are feeding many beautiful raptors across the country.

  25. 4th Turning says:

    Wondering if by chance he’s a proctologist and I can get a referral…

  26. Naja pallida says:

    All he’s doing is copying directly from PETA’s website. Not even bothering to formulate his own opinion on the matter, much less actually do his own research on the actual uses, effects, and how the drugs he mentions were developed for human use.

  27. Will says:

    I would have addressed the bit about morphine and ASA but I have no idea what you are talking about,. I don’t know if you think I wrote the Salon article that I linked to or what but I never wrote anything about morphine or ASA. It’s hard to tell what you are going for, maybe a little less patronizing sarcasm and more factual evidence would bring clarity.

  28. docsterx says:

    Good luck!

  29. docsterx says:

    Ira Flatow, from Science Friday, had a segment of the show on this topic. He interviewed the head of this research team, Jeffrey Mogil, of McGill UNiversity in Montreal, Canada. http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/05/02/2014/male-researchers-may-increase-stress-in-lab-mice.html

  30. GarySFBCN says:


  31. docsterx says:

    Some neurologists specialize in headache diagnosis and management. If you’re in San Francisco, the UCSF Medical Center, or other large teaching hospital, may have a headache center, headache clinic, etc. that may be able to diagnose and treat you.

  32. GarySFBCN says:

    It is almost always hidden in a peanut butter jar in the garage.

  33. Will says:

    I’m not sure why you would bring up climate change other than to distract,, pretty much has nothing to do with this discussion, nice distraction.

    I did not misread your comment about Penicillin – my point is that had animal research been used to determine its effect on humans we would not have it today because it would have failed. The money comes into play because researchers need to publish to make a career and you can always get statistics from animal research. It’s meaningless of course, just like testing Penicillin on animals would have been meaningless. It’s not that complicated.

  34. GarySFBCN says:

    If you search for ‘headache’ and ‘barometric pressure’ you will get thousands of results. It is becoming a common problem. It my case it is related to sinus but not like sinus problems associated with an allergy or a cold.

    My HMO doc is actually pretty good – he’s a DO, and as such, he’s open to alternative therapies. I’ve tried just about everything from every OTC drug, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, sinus rinses, sinus massage, acupuncture, acupressure and not much as worked – until now.

    My last doctor wasn’t bad either. He just didn’t know how to respond to this problem.

  35. docsterx says:

    Yeah, researchers just “pretend” to scrabble for grants and other funding. They could just bankroll it themselves, cheap ^#($H$)! You know that all of that equipment is dirt cheap to buy. I hear Neil DeGrasse Tyson is funding another Hubble on his own dime. I that’s about $2.5 billion. Chump change.

  36. docsterx says:

    Meaningless? Not at all. I never said anything about testing penicillin on animals. You misread what I wrote or simply put your own spin on it. You implied that animal research is useless, completely untrue. Of course, you then cite other animal research (which you’ve already said is useless) to support the statements that you make about drugs like morphine and ASA. You really can’t have it both ways, except in your own little world. But if you want to conclude that animal studies are useless, you’re free to continue to have those fixed, persistent and incorrect beliefs.

    I’ve done research on pottos. They played with us both before and after the experiments, hardly terrified. But of course, if animal research is useless then it doesn’t make a difference if the animal is terrified or not, does it? Going to deny climate change for your next act?

    Now excuse me while I go to my estate on Martinique via one of my private jets. See, that potto research paid of handsomely!

  37. Zorba says:

    Well, this is certainly news to me. My husband, a molecular biologist, must be hiding those huge amounts of money he’s supposed to be getting. Because it sure isn’t showing up in his paycheck. ;-)
    Maybe, if he had started a new biotech company many years ago, say something like Genentech, he might, just might, have lucked into the riches. But he didn’t. He wanted to do basic research.

  38. Houndentenor says:

    I don’t know from lab rats, but a cute doctor always makes me feel better.

  39. Houndentenor says:

    Are the headaches forward? Sounds like a sinus problem.

    Doctors work on a business model that requires getting you in and out and writing a prescription as quickly as possible. If you have a nonstandard problem (which you do) you have to waste a lot of time and money finding a doctor who will actually listen to what’s going on. It could be a lot of things, but it sounds like you stumbled upon something that unblocked your sinuses and thereby eliminated the headache. There may be something that would work better. It’s too bad that it’s such a pain to get someone to take what’s going on with your body seriously when it’s not a standard problem with a standard prescription. (I have my own sinus problems and no one ever takes them seriously. As a professional singer this is a major issue for me. Unfortunately I don’t have the financial resources to pay huge fees to countless specialists in the hope that one of them will even pay attention to what I’m saying.)

  40. will says:

    Since you mention it, it’s a good thing that Penicillin wasn’t tested on animals. Penicillin kills guinea pigs but is inactive in rabbits;

    Aspirin kills cats and causes birth defects in rats, mice, guinea pigs, dogs, and monkeys; and morphine, a depressant in humans, stimulates goats, cats, and horses. Further, animals in laboratories typically display behavior indicating extreme psychological distress, and experimenters acknowledge that the use of these stressed-out animals jeopardizes the validity of the data produced. Meaningless, yes.

  41. docsterx says:


    Of course there are many differences between mice and humans. That hardly makes the research meaningless. Penicillin was discovered by looking at a mold growing on a culture plate covered with Staphlococcus. So since that wasn’t research done on humans, we should scrap penicillin, right?

    Mice are routinely used in many experiments for drugs, cosmetics, other chemicals. psychological testing, etc. for a variety of reasons: they have similar physiology, biochemistry, genetics. psychology. etc. Well over 80% of human genes are almost identically represented in the mouse.

    Yes, I see all of those PhD, MD, DO, MA, MS, DSC, MPH researchers have now made it into the 1% because of the huge amounts of money that they make from salaries, patents, perks, etc.

  42. will says:

    Here’s another way to look at it

    animal research is one of the biggest scams going

  43. will says:

    There are so many differences in mice and humans that this is meaningless but some people are making a lot of money off it so it will continue. These studies always end with “more research is needed” so more money can be made.

  44. 4th Turning says:

    More good medicine-more about men than mice (too rich not to share somewhere on this site!)

    A Marine silent no longer on gay marriage

    By Roger Dean Huffstetler, Published: April 3
    Roger Dean Huffstetler is a former Marine Corps sergeant.
    I slept with a gay man for six months in Afghanistan.
    No one asked. He did not tell.



  45. Indigo says:

    Sorting through the mythology is a private journey. I haven’t met one self-identified aroma therapist or therapist of other similar styles that had a coherent set of spells that works. But like you, if I explore the options, some of them work for me. Others not. Your best bet is to find a reliable witch doctor but they’re careful to keep a low profile.

  46. GarySFBCN says:

    Interesting. And just last week, I stumbled-up something curious. For years, I’ve been suffering from headaches that appear to be caused by changes in barometric pressure and they’ve been getting increasingly severe. I went to my doctor about it 5 years ago and he really didn’t care.

    I recent had to switch to an HMO and asked the new doctor about this and he gave me some meds that didn’t really help either. These headaches seem to be caused by sinus issues and nothing helps.

    I was cleaning and found a lot misplaced bottle of white flower oil. As my sinuses were acting-up, I put a dab of it beneath my nostrils. Within moments, my headache was almost completely gone.

    I used to think that ‘aroma therapy’ was bunk, but now I’m thinking that at some level, there may be something to it. But how does one get through all the mythology to find the truth?

  47. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Well, there is something about the scent of a man, but it’s effect on me has nothing to do with pain. I don’t think it does?

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