Glia a Promising Target for Neuropathic Pain – Ketamine Acting on Glia More Than on Neuronal NMDA Receptors? 01/30/2012 — Nancy Sajben MD

Glia a Promising Target for Neuropathic Pain – Ketamine Acting on Glia More Than on Neuronal NMDA Receptors?

01/30/2012 — Nancy Sajben MD

Three important new articles from March, August and November 2011, show ketamine acts on glia.

Emphasis within articles is mine. (Nancy Sajben MD)

Microglia: a promising target for treating neuropathic and postoperative pain, and morphine tolerance.


Management of chronic pain, such as nerve-injury-induced neuropathic pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, viral infection, and cancer, is a real clinical challenge. Major surgeries, such as breast and thoracic surgery, leg amputation, and coronary artery bypass surgery, also lead to chronic pain in 10-50% of individuals after acute postoperative pain, partly due to surgery-induced nerve injury. Current treatments mainly focus on blocking neurotransmission in the pain pathway and have only resulted in limited success. Ironically, chronic opioid exposure might lead to paradoxical pain.Development of effective therapeutic strategies requires a better understanding of cellular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain. Progress in pain research points to an important role of microglial cells in the development of chronic painSpinal cord microglia are strongly activated after nerve injury, surgical incision, and chronic opioid exposure. Increasing evidence suggests that, under all these conditions, the activated microglia not only exhibit increased expression of microglial markers CD 11 b and Iba 1, but also display elevated phosphorylation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase. Inhibition of spinal cord p38 has been shown to attenuate neuropathic and postoperative pain, as well as morphine-induced antinociceptive tolerance. Activation of p38 in spinal microglia results in increased synthesis and release of the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-1β, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α. These microglia-released mediators can powerfully modulate spinal cord synaptic transmission, leading to increased excitability of dorsal horn neurons, that is,central sensitization, partly via suppressing inhibitory synaptic transmission. Here, we review studies that support the pronociceptive role of microglia in conditions of neuropathic and postoperative pain and opioid tolerance. We conclude that targeting microglial signaling might lead to more effective treatments for devastating chronic pain after diabetic neuropathy, viral infection, cancer, and major surgeries, partly via improving the analgesic efficacy of opioids.

Ketamine depresses toll-like receptor 3 signaling in spinal microglia in a rat model of neuropathic pain.


Reports suggest that microglia play a key role in spinal nerve ligation (SNL)-induced neuropathic pain, and toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) has a substantial role in the activation of spinal microglia and the development of tactile allodynia after nerve injury. In addition, ketamine application could suppress microglial activation in vitro, and ketamine could inhibit proinflammatory gene expression possibly by suppressing TLR-mediated signal transduction. Therefore, the present study was designed to disclose whether intrathecal ketamine could suppress SNL-induced spinal microglial activation and exert some antiallodynic effects on neuropathic pain by suppressing TLR3 activation. Behavioral results showed that intrathecal ketamine attenuated SNL-induced mechanical allodynia, as well as spinal microglial activation, in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, Western blot analysis displayed that ketamine application downregulated SNL-induced phosphorylated-p38 (p-p38) expression, which was specifically expressed in spinal microglia but not in astrocytes or neurons. Besides, ketamine could reverse TLR3 agonist (polyinosine-polycytidylic acid)-induced mechanical allodynia and spinal microglia activation. It was concluded that intrathecal ketamine depresses TLR3-induced spinal microglial p-p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway activation after SNL, probably contributing to the antiallodynic effect of ketamine on SNL-induced neuropathic pain.

Microglial Ca(2+)-activated K(+) channels are possible molecular targets for the analgesic effects of S-ketamine on neuropathic pain.


Ketamine is an important analgesia clinically used for both acute and chronic pain. The acute analgesic effects of ketamine are generally believed to be mediated by the inhibition of NMDA receptors in nociceptive neurons. However, the inhibition of neuronal NMDA receptors cannot fully account for its potent analgesic effects on chronic pain because there is a significant discrepancy between their potencies. The possible effect of ketamine on spinal microglia was first examined because hyperactivation of spinal microglia after nerve injury contributes to neuropathic pain. Optically pure S-ketamine preferentially suppressed the nerve injury-induced development of tactile allodynia and hyperactivation of spinal microglia. S-Ketamine also preferentially inhibited hyperactivation of cultured microglia after treatment with lipopolysaccharide, ATP, or lysophosphatidic acid. We next focused our attention on the Ca(2+)-activated K(+) (K(Ca)) currents in microglia, which are known to induce their hyperactivation and migration. S-Ketamine suppressed both nerve injury-induced large-conductance K(Ca) (BK) currents and 1,3-dihydro-1-[2-hydroxy-5-(trifluoromethyl)phenyl]-5-(trifluoromethyl)-2H-benzimidazol-2-one (NS1619)-induced BK currents in spinal microglia. Furthermore, the intrathecal administration of charybdotoxin, a K(Ca) channel blocker, significantly inhibited the nerve injury-induced tactile allodynia, the expression of P2X(4) receptors, and the synthesis of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in spinal microglia. In contrast, NS1619-induced tactile allodynia was completely inhibited by S-ketamine. These observations strongly suggest that S-ketamine preferentially suppresses the nerve injury-induced hyperactivation and migration of spinal microglia through the blockade of BK channels. Therefore, the preferential inhibition of microglial BK channels in addition to neuronal NMDA receptors may account for the preferential and potent analgesic effects of S-ketamine on neuropathic pain.


The material on this site is for informational purposes only,and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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