Chronic pain and itch are a pathological operation of the somatosensory system at the levels of primary sensory neurons, spinal cord and brain. Pain and itch are clearly distinct sensations, and recent studies have revealed the separate neuronal pathways that are involved in each sensation. However, the mechanisms by which these sensations turn into a pathological chronic state are poorly understood. A proposed mechanism underlying chronic pain and itch involves abnormal excitability in dorsal horn neurons in the spinal cord. Furthermore, an increasing body of evidence from models of chronic pain and itch has indicated that synaptic hyperexcitability in the spinal dorsal horn might not be a consequence simply of changes in neurons, but rather of multiple alterations in glial cells. Thus, understanding the key roles of glial cells may provide us with exciting insights into the mechanisms of chronicity of pain and itch, and lead to new targets for treating chronic pain and itch.
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