If microglia cells in the brain are inhibited within a few days after nerve injury, chronic neuropathic pain may be greatly reduced or even diminished altogether, according to researchers.

Chronic neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage as the result of injury, surgery, or debilitating disease such as diabetes or cancer. In people with such pain, microglia cells in the brain proliferate and become toxic, explains Long-Jun Wu, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University, in a media release.

“The general thought has been that these cells are supposed to be beneficial in the nervous system under normal conditions. But, in fact, in those with this neuropathic pain these cells known as microglia, have proliferated and instead become toxic,” he says.

However, in their study, led by Wu and colleagues, they suggest that inhibiting microglia may help prevent or reverse chronic pain.

“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,” Wu adds. “If we were able to deplete the microglia cells causing the condition before nerve injury occurs, we can permanently prevent it.”

The study involved using chemotherapy drugs on mice to prohibit the microglia cells in the brain from proliferating—similar to the treatment oncologists use to prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Their results suggest that the chemotherapy drugs helped reduce the amount of pain the mice experienced after being injured, according to the release from Rutgers University.

“What needs to be done is prevent the microglia cells from multiplying in the first place,” Wu says. “It had been thought that these cells were beneficial in a normal brain, but our research discovered how these cells function under neuropathic pain condition and initiate the problem.”

Wu adds that this study, published recently in both Nature Communications and Cell Reports, may lead to more effective painkillers with fewer side effects.

“Our research raises the intriguing possibility that minimizing microglial proliferation may be a novel approach for pain control,” Wu said. “We hope this will eventually lead to more effective pain killers that will battle this devastating disease,” he concludes.

[Source(s): Rutgers University, Science Daily]