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Central Nervous System Agents in Medicinal Chemistry


ISSN (Print): 1871-5249
ISSN (Online): 1875-6166

Elucidation of Pathophysiology and Treatment of Neuropathic Pain

Author(s): Jan H. Vranken

Volume 12, Issue 4, 2012

Page: [304 - 314] Pages: 11

DOI: 10.2174/187152412803760645

Price: $65


Neuropathic pain, pain arising as a direct consequence of a lesion or disease affecting the somatosensory system, is relatively common, occurring in about 1% of the population. Studies in animal models describe a number of peripheral and central pathophysiological processes after nerve injury that would be the basis of underlying neuropathic pain mechanism. Additionally, neuro-imaging (positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging) provides insights in brain mechanisms corresponding with mechanistic processes including allodynia, hyperalgesia, altered sensation, and spontaneous pain. A change in function, chemistry, and structures of neurons (neural plasticity) underlie the production of the altered sensitivity characteristics of neuropathic pain. Peripheral processes in neuropathic pain involve production of mediators (cytokines, protons, nerve growth factor), alterations in calcium channels, sodium channels, hyperpolarisation-activated nucleotide-gated ion channels, and potassium channels, phenotypic switches and sprouting of nerves endings, and involvement of the sympathetic nervous system. Stimulation of the N-Methyl-DAspartate receptor, activation of microglia, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes, increased production of nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor together with loss of spinal inhibitory control are responsible for central neuron hyperexcitability and maintenance of neuropathic pain. Recent advances, including functional imaging techniques, in identification of peripheral and central sensitization mechanisms related to nervous system injury have increased potential for affecting pain research from both diagnostic as well as therapeutic view. Key brain regions involved in generating pharmacologically induced analgesia may be identified. Despite the progress in pain research, neuropathic pain is challenge to manage. Although numerous treatment options are available for relieving neuropathic pain, there is no consensus on the most appropriate treatment. However, recommendations can be proposed for first-line, second-line, and third-line pharmacological treatments based on the level of evidence for the different treatment strategies. Available therapies shown to be effective in managing neuropathic pain include opioids and tramadol, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, topical treatments (lidocaine patch, capsaicin), and ketamine. Tricyclic antidepressants are often the first drugs selected to alleviate neuropathic pain (first-line pharmacological treatment). Although they are very effective in reducing pain in several neuropathic pain disorders, treatment may be compromised (and outweighed) by their side effects. In patients with a history of cardiovascular disorders, glaucoma, and urine retention, pregabalin and gabapentine are emerging as first-line treatment for neuropathic pain. In addition these anti-epileptic drugs have a favourable safety profile with minimal concerns regarding drug interactions and showing no interference with hepatic enzymes. Alternatively, opioids (oxycodone and methadone) and tramadol may alleviate nociceptive and neuropathic pain. Despite the numerous treatment options available for relieving neuropathic pain, no more than half of patients experience clinically meaningful pain relief, which is almost always partial but not complete relief. In addition, patients frequently experience burdensome adverse effects and as a consequence are often unable to tolerate the treatment. In the remaining patients, combination therapies using two or more analgesics with different mechanisms of action may also offer adequate pain relief. Although combination treatment is clinical practice and may result in greater pain relief, trials regarding different combinations of analgesics (which combination to use, occurrence of additive or supra-additive effects, sequential or concurrent treatment, adverse-event profiles of these analgesics, alone and in combination) are scarce. If medical treatments have failed, invasive therapies such as intrathecal drug administration and neurosurgical stimulation techniques (spinal cord stimulation, deep brain stimulation, and motor cortex stimulation) may be considered.

Keywords: Neuropathic pain, pathophysiology, pharmacological treatment, Algorithm, Parkinson’s disease, multiples sclerosis, central nervous system, pain signal

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