Neurotrophic factors and their receptors in human sensory neuropathies

Prog Brain Res. 2004:146:477-92. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(03)46030-5.


Neurotrophic factors may play key roles in pathophysiological mechanisms of human neuropathies. Nerve growth factor (NGF) is trophic to small-diameter sensory fibers and regulates nociception. This review focuses on sensory dysfunction and the potential of neurotrophic treatments. Genetic neuropathy. Mutations of the NGF high-affinity receptor tyrosine kinase A (Trk A) have been found in congenital insensitivity to pain and anhidrosis; these are likely to be partial loss-of-function mutations, as axon-reflex vasodilatation and sweating can be elicited albeit reduced, suggesting rhNGF could restore nociception in some patients. Leprous neuropathy. Decreased NGF in leprosy skin may explain cutaneous hypoalgesia even with inflammation and rhNGF may restore sensation, as spared nerve fibers show Trk A-staining. Diabetic neuropathy. NGF is depleted in early human diabetic neuropathy skin, in correlation with dysfunction of nociceptor fibers. We proposed rhNGF prophylaxis may prevent diabetic foot ulceration. Clinical trials have been disappointed, probably related to difficulty delivering adequate doses and need for multiple trophic factors. NGF and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) are both produced by basal keratinocytes and neurotrophin (NT-3) by suprabasal keratinocytes: relative mRNA expression was significantly lower in early diabetic neuropathy skin compared to controls, for NGF (P < 0.02), BDNF (P < 0.05), NT-3 (P < 0.05), GDNF (< 0.02), but not NT4/5, Trk A or p75 neurotrophin receptor (all P > 0.05). Posttranslational modifications of mature and pro-NGF may also affect bioactivity and immunoreactivity. A 53 kD band that could correspond to a prepro-NGF-like molecule was reduced in diabetic skin. Traumatic neuropathy and pain. While NGF levels are acutely reduced in injured nerve trunks, neuropathic patients with chronic skin hyperalgesia and allodynia show marked local increases of NGF levels; here anti-NGF agents may provide analgesia. Physiological combinations of NGF, NT-3 and GDNF, to mimic a 'surrogate target organ', may provide a novel 'homeostatic' approach to prevent the development and ameliorate intractable neuropathic pain (e.g., at painful amputation stumps).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / complications
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Growth Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / physiology*
  • Risk Factors


  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Protein Precursors
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor