Researchers from Rutgers University have explored treating chronic neuropathic pain which affects over 1 million Americans. Neuropathic pain results when nerve damage is caused due to injury, surgery or a some disease. Researchers showed that pain could be reduced in animals when microglia brain cells are targeted which are supposed to provide immunity.
The researchers say that the microglia brain cells are supposed to be beneficial to the nervous system but in those with neuropathic pain these cells known as microglia have proliferated and instead become toxic. The researchers say that if they catch the injury within one to five days to inhibit microglia after nerve injury the development of chronic pain can be partially reversed.
Neuropathic pain persists after the nerve has healed and is often resistant to normal pain medications. In lab mice the researchers used chemotherapy drugs to prohibit the microglia brain immune cells from proliferating. This chemotherapy drug reduced the amount of pain the mice experienced after the injury occurred.
The researchers feel that minimizing microglial proliferation may be a novel approach for pain control. They hope that this could help lead to the development of more effective pain killers that can help control the pain.
As one who suffers from chronic pain it is interesting to see that researchers are making some progress on better understanding how to prevent and treat chronic pain. Since the researchers used chemotherapy drugs on the mice it is probably not likely similar results can be ethically tested with human patients.
Jiyun Peng and et al. Microglia and monocytes synergistically promote the transition from acute to chronic pain after nerve injury. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12029.
Nan Gu and et al. Spinal Microgliosis Due to Resident Microglial Proliferation Is Required for Pain Hypersensitivity after Peripheral Nerve Injury. Cell Reports, 2016; 16 (3): 605.