A naturally occurring protein might hold the key to alleviating neuropathic pain, Frank Porreca and colleagues report in the November issue of Nature Medicine.
The researchers used a surgical technique to damage the spinal cords of rats and induce neuropathic pain -- resulting from abnormal nerve function -- causing them to become hypersensitive to heat and pressure. But when the rats were treated with artemin, a nerve growth factor also found in humans, the hypersensitivity was relieved -- even when the treatment was begun two weeks after surgery. Artemin treatment also reversed several molecular changes in the nerve cells that had resulted from the surgery.
Nearly 3 million Americans suffer from neuropathic pain, which can result from trauma, infection, drugs or unknown causes. Current therapies, including opioids, have undesirable side effects. Because the artemin receptor is only found on a specific subset of nerve cells, however, artemin may have a limited effect on the rest of the body and deliver relief with minimal side effects.
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