Microglia in the spinal cord and neuropathic pain

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180 Citations (Scopus)


In contrast to physiological pain, pathological pain is not dependent on the presence of tissue-damaging stimuli. One type of pathological pain - neuropathic pain - is often a consequence of nerve injury or of diseases such as diabetes. Neuropathic pain can be agonizing, can persist over long periods and is often resistant to known painkillers. A growing body of evidence shows that many pathological processes within the central nervous system are mediated by complex interactions between neurons and glial cells. In the case of painful peripheral neuropathy, spinal microglia react and undergo a series of changes that directly influence the establishment of neuropathic pain states. After nerve damage, purinergic P2X4 receptors (non-selective cation channels activated by extracellular adenosine triphosphate) are upregulated in spinal microglia in a manner that depends on the transcription factors interferon regulatory factor 8 and 5, both of which are expressed in microglia after peripheral nerve injury. P2X4 receptor expression on the cell surface of microglia is also regulated at the post-translational level by signaling from CC chemokine receptor chemotactic cytokine receptor 2. Furthermore, spinal microglia in response to extracellular stimuli results in signal transduction through intracellular signaling cascades, such as mitogen-activated protein kinases, p38 and extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase. Importantly, inhibiting the function or expression of these microglial molecules suppresses the aberrant excitability of dorsal horn neurons and neuropathic pain. These findings show that spinal microglia are a central player in mechanisms for neuropathic pain, and might be a potential target for treating the chronic pain state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-26
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Diabetes Investigation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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