Neuropathic pain associated with cancer, diabetic neuropathy, and postherpetic neuralgia is a type of intractable chronic pain characterized by mechanical allodynia and abnormal pain hypersensitivity evoked by innocuous stimuli. However, this disorder has no specific treatment. We previously showed that the purinergic receptor P2X4 (P2X4R), a subtype of ATP-gated nonselective cation channels, is highly upregulated in spinal microglia after peripheral nerve injury, and blocking the function of P2X4R reverses mechanical allodynia. In the present study, we screened a chemical library of 1979 clinically approved compounds (a gift from the Drug Discovery Initiative at the University of Tokyo) aimed at achieving “Eco-Pharma”, which refers to seeking new effects of existing drugs. We demonstrated that duloxetine, a serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor, has an inhibitory effect on rat and human P2X4R. In rat primary cultured microglial cells, duloxetine also inhibited P2X4R-mediated responses. Moreover, intrathecal administration of duloxetine in a model of neuropathic pain reversed nerve injury-induced mechanical allodynia. Based on those results, we suggest that the inhibition of P2X4R expressed in microglial cells may be involved in the antiallodynic effect of duloxetine in neuropathic pain. Furthermore, in this review, we discuss a new strategy for drug discovery called “Green Pharma” (a merger of “Eco-Pharma” and “Green chemistry” and referring to the development of eco-friendly pharmaceuticals).
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