Neuropathic Pain May Be Alleviated by Targeting Brain Cells

A study in animals has shown that targeting microglia cells within a few days of injury can alleviate neuropathic pain, according to Science Daily. Neuropathic pain is a complex, chronic state of pain that comes from problems with signals from nerves.

Neuropathic pain can be caused by brain injury, surgery, or diseases like diabetes and cancer. More than one million Americans suffer from neuropathic pain, and this research has the potential to help them.

Microglia cells are supposed to be beneficial to the nervous system under normal conditions, but proliferate and can be toxic in patients with neuropathic pain.

Long-Jun Wu, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University, said that if doctors are able to catch the window of one to five days to inhibit microglia after nerve damage, they can reverse the development of chronic pain. If they are able to deplete microglia cells before injury occurs, they can permanently prevent the neuropathic pain.

Neuropathic pain occurs after trauma, surgery, or some disease. This kind of pain continues even after the injured nerve is healed and is resistant to pain killers like acetaminophen and naproxen. Opiates can be used to alleviate pain, but they have side effects and are not always effective for neuropathic pain patients.

The research was done in the lab on mice. They gave the mice a chemotherapy drug to inhibit the proliferation of microglia cells. The treatment is similar to what doctors give to cancer patients to prevent cancer cells from multiplying. The chemotherapy drug reduced the amount of pain the animals were in after injury. However, mice are not humans, so approach their results with caution.

Preventing the microglia cells from multiplying is the key to success, Wu said. It was thought that these cells could be beneficial in a normal brain, but their research found out how these cells operate in a neuropathic condition and initiate the problem.

Researchers found that microglia and monocytes act synergistically to increase hypersensitivity and transition pain from chronic to acute after peripheral nerve injury.

Scientists have been studying microglia in relation to neuropathic pain for many years, but Rutgers was able to pinpoint how the cells initiate and maintain the condition. Proliferation of these cells cause microglial pain. Microglia brain cells or peripheral monocytes are responsible for gating neuropathic pain after spinal nerve transection in mice.

The research could lead to the development of more effective painkillers with less side effects by limiting the proliferation of microglia brain cells, Wu said.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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