Purpose of review: Our goal is to examine the processes-both central and peripheral-that underlie the development of peripherally-induced neuropathic pain (pNP) and to highlight recent evidence for mechanisms contributing to its maintenance. While many pNP conditions are initiated by damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS), their persistence appears to rely on maladaptive processes within the central nervous system (CNS). The potential existence of an autonomous pain-generating mechanism in the CNS creates significant implications for the development of new neuropathic pain treatments; thus, work towards its resolution is crucial. Here, we seek to identify evidence for PNS and CNS independently generating neuropathic pain signals.
Recent findings: Recent preclinical studies in pNP support and provide key details concerning the role of multiple mechanisms leading to fiber hyperexcitability and sustained electrical discharge to the CNS. In studies regarding central mechanisms, new preclinical evidence includes the mapping of novel inhibitory circuitry and identification of the molecular basis of microglia-neuron crosstalk. Recent clinical evidence demonstrates the essential role of peripheral mechanisms, mostly via studies that block the initially damaged peripheral circuitry. Clinical central mechanism studies use imaging to identify potentially self-sustaining infra-slow CNS oscillatory activity that may be unique to pNP patients. While new preclinical evidence supports and expands upon the key role of central mechanisms in neuropathic pain, clinical evidence for an autonomous central mechanism remains relatively limited. Recent findings from both preclinical and clinical studies recapitulate the critical contribution of peripheral input to maintenance of neuropathic pain. Further clinical investigations on the possibility of standalone central contributions to pNP may be assisted by a reconsideration of the agreed terms or criteria for diagnosing the presence of central sensitization in humans.
Keywords: Central sensitization; Chronic pain; Hyperexcitability; Neuropathic pain; Neuroplasticity; Painful neuropathy; Peripheral nerve damage.