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We Spoke With the Italian Woman Who Can't Feel Pain

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Earlier this month, scientists discussed a new syndrome, “Marsili syndrome,” a rare disorder in which people feel significantly less pain than others—so little pain, in fact, they they can break bones without noticing. As far as scientists can tell, there’s only one family that has Marsili syndrome: The Marsili family in Italy.

The syndrome has a genetic component, a mutation on a gene called ZFHX2. There’s much we still don’t understand about pain, and ZFHX2 is one of several genes that have been shown to affect our experience of pain. But perhaps better understanding the mutation on this gene could help better create pain treatments in the future.


We were able to chat briefly by email with Letizia Marsili, 52, a professor at the University in Siena.


Gizmodo: Did you ever hurt yourself as a child? What was it like?

Letizia Marsili: When I was a child I experienced bad injuries: I remember when I fell off my bike and once I pierced my chest with a nail. I felt pain but just for a while. I mean I had the perception of pain, but [just] for a few seconds

Would you want to feel more pain?

LM: No, I wouldn’t want feel more pain since now I know my body... I prefer to have my perception of pain rather than feeling it too much.


What do you want others to know about your condition?

LM: I would like other people think about the possibilities of discovery for pain relief. I don’t want to be considered a superheroine. Studying this syndrome could help in finding new relief treatments for chronic pain.


What was it like to raise your children, who also have the condition?

LM: My sons have my condition, too, and it has been easy to raise them since they complained less than other children. Perhaps it has been easier.


What do you hope researching your condition will accomplish?

LM:I hope the research can make progress in studying pain and in chronic pain treatment in the future.