Nociception, pain, and antinociception: current concepts
Riedel W, Neeck G.
Max-Planck-Institut fur Physiologische und Klinische Forschung
W.-G.-Kerckhoff-Institut Parkstrasse 1,
61231 Bad Nauheim, Germany.
Z Rheumatol 2001 Dec;60(6):404-15


The physiology of nociception involves a complex interaction of peripheral and central nervous system (CNS) structures, extending from the skin, the viscera and the musculoskeletal tissues to the cerebral cortex. The pathophysiology of chronic pain shows alterations of normal physiological pathways, giving rise to hyperalgesia or allodynia. After integration in the spinal cord, nociceptive information is transferred to thalamic structures before it reaches the somatosensory cortex. Each of these levels of the CNS contain modulatory mechanisms. The two most important systems in modulating nociception and antinociception, the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and opioid receptor system, show a close distribution pattern in nearly all CNS regions, and activation of NMDA receptors has been found to contribute to the hyperalgesia associated with nerve injury or inflammation. Apart from substance P (SP), the major facilitatory effect in nociception is exerted by glutamate as the natural activator of NMDA receptors. Stimulation of ionotropic NMDA receptors causes intraneuronal elevation of Ca2+ which stimulates nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and the production of nitric oxide (NO). NO as a gaseous molecule diffuses out from the neuron and by action on guanylyl cyclase, NO stimulates in neighboring neurons the formation of cGMP. Depending on the expression of cGMP-controlled ion channels in target neurons, NO may act excitatory or inhibitory. NO has been implicated in the development of hyperexcitability, resulting in hyperalgesia or allodynia, by increasing nociceptive transmitters at their central terminals. Among the three subtypes of opioid receptors, mu- and delta-receptors either inhibit or potentiate NMDA receptor-mediated events, while kappa opioids antagonize NMDA receptor-mediated activity. Recently, CRH has been found to act at all levels of the neuraxis to produce analgesia. Modulation of nociception occurs at all levels of the neuraxis, thus, eliciting the multidimensional experience of pain involving sensory-discriminative, affective-motivational, cognitive and locomotor components.
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