Neuropathic pain remains a prevalent clinical problem because it is often poorly responsive to the currently used analgesics, thus it is crucial the identification of new potential targets and drugs. Recent evidence indicated that microglial cells in the spinal cord are critically involved in the development and maintenance of neuropathic pain, with a pivotal role of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). Binding of an endogenous ligand to TLR4 might be considered an important step in the regulation of microglia activity in pain facilitation, suggesting that a mechanism aimed to inhibit such a binding could be effective against neuropathic pain. We have synthesized new ligands to TLR4 with antagonistic activity. In the present work we evaluated the efficacy of the most potent TLR4 antagonist synthesized by us (FP-1), administered in mice with painful neuropathy. The repeated treatment of neuropathic mice with FP-1 (5-10 mg/kg, i.p.) evoked a relief of both thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia, whereas the administration of the highest dose to TLR4 knockout neuropathic mice revealed that in the absence of TLR4 receptor, the compound lost its efficacy. As consequence of TLR4 binding, the repeated treatment with FP-1 prevented the activation of the transcription factor NF-kB and the TNFalpha overproduction in the spinal cord. Together, our findings support the previous evidence indicative for a contribution of glial TLR4 to the initiation of neuropathic pain, suggest it as potential innovative target to treat this debilitating disease, and propose FP-1 as lead compound for the development of new effective drugs.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.