Microglia in Pain: Detrimental and Protective Roles in Pathogenesis and Resolution of Pain

Neuron. 2018 Dec 19;100(6):1292-1311. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.11.009.


The previous decade has seen a rapid increase in microglial studies on pain, with a unique focus on microgliosis in the spinal cord after nerve injury and neuropathic pain. Numerous signaling molecules are altered in microglia and contribute to the pathogenesis of pain. Here, we discuss how microglial signaling regulates spinal cord synaptic plasticity in acute and chronic pain conditions with different degrees and variations of microgliosis. We highlight that microglial mediators such as pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines are powerful neuromodulators that regulate synaptic transmission and pain via neuron-glial interactions. We also reveal an emerging role of microglia in the resolution of pain, in part via specialized pro-resolving mediators including resolvins, protectins, and maresins. We also discuss a possible role of microglia in chronic itch.

Keywords: central sensitization; inflammation; itch; microglia; nerve injury; neuroinflammation; neuropathic pain; specialized pro-resolving mediators; spinal cord; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / pathology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Pain / pathology*
  • Pain Management*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Up-Regulation / physiology*


  • Cytokines