Interactions between the immune and nervous systems in pain

Abstract

Immune cells and glia interact with neurons to alter pain sensitivity and to mediate the transition from acute to chronic pain. In response to injury, resident immune cells are activated and blood-borne immune cells are recruited to the site of injury. Immune cells not only contribute to immune protection but also initiate the sensitization of peripheral nociceptors. Through the synthesis and release of inflammatory mediators and interactions with neurotransmitters and their receptors, the immune cells, glia and neurons form an integrated network that coordinates immune responses and modulates the excitability of pain pathways. The immune system also reduces sensitization by producing immune-derived analgesic and anti-inflammatory or proresolution agents. A greater understanding of the role of the immune system in pain processing and modulation reveals potential targets for analgesic drug development and new therapeutic opportunities for managing chronic pain.

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Figure 1: Immune activation and nociceptor sensitization after injury.
Figure 2: Modulation of sensory nerve activity in dorsal root ganglia by SGCs.
Figure 3: Activation of glia and neurons in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord after peripheral injury.

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Acknowledgements

The authors' work is supported by US National Institutes of Health grants R01-DE11964, R01-NS060735 and R01-NS059028.

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Ren, K., Dubner, R. Interactions between the immune and nervous systems in pain. Nat Med 16, 1267–1276 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nm.2234

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