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Pain Pract. 2010 May-Jun;10(3):167-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-2500.2010.00367.x. Epub 2010 Apr 5.

The role of glia and the immune system in the development and maintenance of neuropathic pain.

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1
Millennium Pain Center, Bloomington, Illinois 61701, USA. vallejo@millenniumpaincenter.com

Abstract

Neuropathic pain refers to a variety of chronic pain conditions with differing underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms and origins. Recent studies indicate a communication between the immune system and the nervous system. A common underlying mechanism of neuropathic pain is the presence of inflammation at the site of the damaged or affected nerve(s). This inflammatory response initiates a cascade of events resulting in the concentration and activation of innate immune cells at the site of tissue injury. The release of immunoactive substances such as cytokines, neurotrophic factors, and chemokines initiate local actions and can result in a more generalized immune response. The resultant neuroinflammatory environment can cause activation of glial cells located in the spinal cord and the brain, which appear to play a prominent role in nociception. Glial cells, also known as neuroglia, are nonconducting cells that modulate neurotransmission at the synaptic level. Glial cells can be subdivided into two primary categories: microglia and macroglia, which include astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Astrocytes and microglia are known to play a role in the development, spread, and potentiation of neuropathic pain. Following peripheral nociceptive activation via nerve injury, microglia become activated and release pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1beta, and interleukin-6, thereby initiating the pain process. Microglia propagate the neuroinflammation by recruiting other microglia and eventually activating nearby astrocytes, which prolongs the inflammatory state and leads to a chronic neuropathic pain condition. Our review focuses on the role of glia and the immune system in the development and maintenance of neuropathic pain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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