Circuitry and plasticity of the dorsal horn--toward a better understanding of neuropathic pain

Neuroscience. 2015 Aug 6;300:254-75. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.05.020. Epub 2015 May 16.


Maladaptive plasticity within the dorsal horn (DH) of the spinal cord is a key substrate for development of neuropathic pain following peripheral nerve injury. Advances in genetic engineering, tracing techniques and opto-genetics are leading to a much better understanding of the complex circuitry of the spinal DH and the radical changes evoked in such circuitry by nerve injury. These changes can be viewed at multiple levels including: synaptic remodeling including enhanced excitatory and reduced inhibitory drive, morphological and electrophysiological changes which are observed both to primary afferent inputs as well as DH neurons, and ultimately circuit-level rewiring which leads to altered connectivity and aberrant processing of sensory inputs in the DH. The DH should not be seen in isolation but is subject to important descending modulation from the brainstem, which is further dysregulated by nerve injury. Understanding which changes relate to specific disease-states is essential, and recent work has aimed to stratify patient populations in a mechanistic fashion. In this review we will discuss how such pathophysiological mechanisms may lead to the distressing sensory phenomena experienced by patients suffering neuropathic pain, and the relationship of such mechanisms to current and potential future treatment modalities.

Keywords: descending control; dorsal horn; neuropathic pain; plasticity; primary afferent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neuralgia / etiology
  • Neuralgia / pathology
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries / complications
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries / pathology
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / physiopathology*