Michael W. Salter, MD, PhD
Transmission of noxious-stimulus-evoked inputs in the spinal and trigeminal systems is mediated primarily through excitatory glutamatergic synapses using alpha amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionic acid (AMPA), kainate and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtypes of glutamate receptors. Glutamatergic synapses exhibit multiple forms of short-lasting and long-lasting synaptic plasticity. Persistent enhancement of nociceptive transmission, known as central sensitization, is a form of lasting plasticity that is similar mechanistically to long-term potentiation of glutamatergic transmission in other regions of the central nervous system. This potentiation of AMPA/kainate transmission is dependent upon the activity of NMDA receptors, which become enhanced following noxious peripheral stimulation as a result of several convergent mechanisms. Central sensitization is thus an expression of increased synaptic gain at glutamatergic synapses in central nociceptive-transmission neurons and thereby contributes importantly to pain hypersensitivity. In addition, recent evidence has revealed a new player in the mechanisms underlying pain hypersensitivity following nerve injurymicroglia. Understanding of the roles of microglia may lead to new strategies for the diagnosis and management of neuropathic pain.
Journal of Orofacial Pain November/December. Volume 18, Issue 4.