Neuronal plasticity and signal transduction in nociceptive neurons: implications for the initiation and maintenance of pathological pain.
Pathological pain, consisting of tissue injury-induced inflammatory and nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain, is an expression of neuronal plasticity. One component of this is that the afferent input generated by injury and intense noxious stimuli triggers an increased excitability of nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord. This central sensitization is an activity-dependent functional plasticity that results from activation of different intracellular kinase cascades leading to the phosphorylation of key membrane receptors and channels, increasing synaptic efficacy. Central sensitization is both induced and maintained in a transcription-independent manner. Several different intracellular signal transduction cascades converge on MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase), activation of which appears to be a master switch or gate for the regulation of central sensitization. In addition to posttranslational regulation, the MAPK pathway may also regulate long-term pain hypersensitivity, via transcriptional regulation of key gene products. Pharmacological intervention targeted specifically at the signal transduction pathways in nociceptive neurons may provide, therefore, new therapeutic opportunities for pathological pain.
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