Research on animal models conducted by a team from Rutgers University reports the discovery of a new therapeutic target for treating neuropathic pain. Microglia, cells in the brain which are supposed to be beneficial to the nervous system, may instead proliferate and become toxic, according to the findings, leading to or prolonging neuropathic pain. But in the study on mice, the Rutgers team found that chronic neuropathic pain could be greatly reduced by targeting microglia within a few days of the initial triggering nerve injury. Study author Long-Jun Wu, PhD, professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers, stated, "If we can catch that window within 1 to 5 days to inhibit microglia after nerve injury, we can partially reverse the development of chronic pain. If we were able to deplete the microglia cells causing the condition before nerve injury occurs, we can permanently prevent it." The findings are published in both Nature Communications and Cell Biology.
Chronic neuropathic pain can be caused by nerve damage resulting from injury, surgery, or an associated condition such as diabetes or cancer. Pain relievers including acetaminophen and naproxen as well as opioid medications are often of limited effectiveness. In the study, the Rutgers team used chemotherapy drugs to inhibit the proliferation of microglia in nerve injured mice and found that the chemotherapy was effective in reducing the level of pain that was evidenced. The study is described as the first to illuminate the role of these cells in the initiation and sustenance of neuropathic pain.
Read more about neuropathic pain, here.
Read a news story about the discovery, with links included to the journal abstracts, here.