Preclinical and early clinical investigations related to monoaminergic pain modulation

Neurotherapeutics. 2009 Oct;6(4):703-12. doi: 10.1016/j.nurt.2009.07.009.


The balance between descending controls, both excitatory and inhibitory, can be altered in various pain states. There is good evidence for a prominent alpha(2)-adrenoceptor-mediated inhibitory system and 5-HT(3) (and likely also 5-HT(2)) serotonin receptor-mediated excitatory controls originating from brainstem and midbrain areas. The ability of cortical controls to influence spinal function allows for top-down processing through these monoamines. The links between pain and the comorbidities of sleep problems, anxiety, and depression may be due to the dual roles of noradrenaline and of 5-HT in these functions and also in pain. These controls appear, in the cases of peripheral neuropathy, spinal injury, and cancer-induced bone pain to be driven by altered peripheral and spinal neuronal processes; in opioid-induced hyperalgesia, however, the same changes occur without any pathophysiological peripheral process. Thus, in generalized pain states in which fatigue, mood changes, and diffuse pain occur, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, one could suggest an abnormal engagement of descending facilitations with or without reduced inhibitions but with central origins. This would be an endogenous central malfunction of top-down processing, with the altered monoamine systems underlying the observed symptoms. A number of analgesic drugs can either interact with or have their actions modulated by these descending systems, reinforcing their importance in the establishment of pain but also in its control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy
  • Neuralgia / epidemiology
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology*


  • Biogenic Monoamines