Neanderthals are often viewed as tough and resilient, enduring harsh weather conditions and facing off against dangerous prehistoric animals. But our extinct close relatives may actually have been highly sensitive to pain, according to a new study published yesterday in Current Biology. Researchers analyzed the DNA of three Neanderthal skeletons. All contained mutations in a gene called SCN9A, which codes for a protein that controls how painful signals are sent to nerves in the spinal cord and brain. The protein was more active in cells where these mutations were present, which would lower the threshold for feeling pain, Nature reports. Modern British people who had inherited the Neanderthal mutations reported experiencing more pain in their lives, the team found. Neanderthal and human populations are thought to have mixed between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago.
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