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Physiol Rev. 2002 Oct;82(4):981-1011.

Beyond neurons: evidence that immune and glial cells contribute to pathological pain states.

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Department of Psychology and the Center for Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado.


Chronic pain can occur after peripheral nerve injury, infection, or inflammation. Under such neuropathic pain conditions, sensory processing in the affected body region becomes grossly abnormal. Despite decades of research, currently available drugs largely fail to control such pain. This review explores the possibility that the reason for this failure lies in the fact that such drugs were designed to target neurons rather than immune or glial cells. It describes how immune cells are a natural and inextricable part of skin, peripheral nerves, dorsal root ganglia, and spinal cord. It then examines how immune and glial activation may participate in the etiology and symptomatology of diverse pathological pain states in both humans and laboratory animals. Of the variety of substances released by activated immune and glial cells, proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1, interleukin-6) appear to be of special importance in the creation of peripheral nerve and neuronal hyperexcitability. Although this review focuses on immune modulation of pain, the implications are pervasive. Indeed, all nerves and neurons regardless of modality or function are likely affected by immune and glial activation in the ways described for pain.

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