Interactions between the immune and nervous systems in pain

Nat Med. 2010 Nov;16(11):1267-76. doi: 10.1038/nm.2234. Epub 2010 Oct 14.


Immune cells and glia interact with neurons to alter pain sensitivity and to mediate the transition from acute to chronic pain. In response to injury, resident immune cells are activated and blood-borne immune cells are recruited to the site of injury. Immune cells not only contribute to immune protection but also initiate the sensitization of peripheral nociceptors. Through the synthesis and release of inflammatory mediators and interactions with neurotransmitters and their receptors, the immune cells, glia and neurons form an integrated network that coordinates immune responses and modulates the excitability of pain pathways. The immune system also reduces sensitization by producing immune-derived analgesic and anti-inflammatory or proresolution agents. A greater understanding of the role of the immune system in pain processing and modulation reveals potential targets for analgesic drug development and new therapeutic opportunities for managing chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Ganglia, Sensory / immunology
  • Ganglia, Sensory / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Nervous System / immunology*
  • Nervous System / pathology*
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Nociceptors / immunology
  • Nociceptors / pathology
  • Pain / immunology*
  • Pain Management


  • Cytokines