Microbes, microglia, and pain

Neurobiol Pain. 2020 Jan 29:7:100045. doi: 10.1016/j.ynpai.2020.100045. eCollection 2020 Jan-Jul.


Globally, it is estimated that one in five people suffer from chronic pain, with prevalence increasing with age. The pathophysiology of chronic pain encompasses complex sensory, immune, and inflammatory interactions within both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Microglia, the resident macrophages of the central nervous system (CNS), are critically involved in the initiation and persistence of chronic pain. Microglia respond to local signals from the CNS but are also modulated by signals from the gastrointestinal tract. Emerging data from preclinical and clinical studies suggest that communication between the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria residing within the gut, and microglia is involved in producing chronic pain. Targeted strategies that manipulate or restore the gut microbiome have been shown to reduce microglial activation and alleviate symptoms associated with inflammation. These data indicate that manipulations of the gut microbiome in chronic pain patients might be a viable strategy in improving pain outcomes. Herein, we discuss the evidence for a connection between microglia and the gut microbiome and explore the mechanisms by which commensal bacteria might influence microglial reactivity to drive chronic pain.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Gut microbiome; Gut permeability; Gut-brain axis; Microglia; Vagus nerve.

Publication types

  • Review