Pain is a defense system that responds rapidly to harmful internal and external stimuli through the somatosensory neuronal pathway. However, damage to the nervous system through cancer, diabetes, infection, autoimmune disease, chemotherapy or trauma often leads to neuropathic pain, a debilitating chronic pain condition. Neuropathic pain is not simply a temporal continuum of acute nociceptive signals from the periphery, but rather due to pathologically altered functions in the nervous system, which shift the net neuronal excitatory balance toward excitation. Although alterations were long thought to be a result of changes in neurons, but an increasing body of evidence over the past decades indicates the necessity and sufficiency of microglia, the tissue-resident macrophages of the spinal cord and brain, for nerve injury-induced malfunction of the nervous system. In this review article, I describe our current understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the role of microglia in the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain and discuss the therapeutic potential of microglia from recent advances in the development of new drugs targeting microglia.
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