Voltage-gated sodium channels (VGSCs) play a fundamental role in controlling cellular excitability, and their abnormal activity is related to several pathological processes, including cardiac arrhythmias, epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, spasticity and chronic pain. In particular, chronic visceral pain, the central symptom of functional gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, is a serious clinical problem that affects a high percentage of the world population. In spite of intense research efforts and after the dedicated decade of pain control and research, there are not many options to treat chronic pain conditions. However, there is a wealth of evidence emerging to give hope that a more refined approach may be achievable. By using electronic databases, available data on structural and functional properties of VGSCs in chronic pain, particularly functional gastrointestinal hypersensitivity, were reviewed. We summarize the involvement and molecular bases of action of VGSCs in the pathophysiology of several organic and functional gastrointestinal disorders. We also describe the efficacy of VGSC blockers in the treatment of these neurological diseases, and outline future developments that may extend the therapeutic use of compounds that target VGSCs. Overall, clinical and experimental data indicate that isoform-specific blockers of these channels or targeting of their modulators may provide effective and novel approaches for visceral pain therapy.
Keywords: Dorsal root ganglion; Functional gastrointestinal disorders; Treatment; Visceral pain; Voltage-gated sodium channel.