Mechanisms of microbial-neuronal interactions in pain and nociception

Neurobiol Pain. 2020 Dec 11;9:100056. doi: 10.1016/j.ynpai.2020.100056. eCollection 2021 Jan-Jul.

Abstract

Nociceptor sensory neurons innervate barrier tissues that are constantly exposed to microbial stimuli. During infection, pathogenic microorganisms can breach barrier surfaces and produce pain by directly activating nociceptors. Microorganisms that live in symbiotic relationships with their hosts, commensals and mutualists, have also been associated with pain, but the molecular mechanisms of how symbionts act on nociceptor neurons to modulate pain remain largely unknown. In this review, we will discuss the known molecular mechanisms of how microbes directly interact with sensory afferent neurons affecting nociception in the gut, skin and lungs. We will touch on how bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens signal to the host to inflict or suppress pain. We will also discuss recent studies examining how gut symbionts affect pain. Specifically, we will discuss how gut symbionts may interact with sensory afferent neurons either directly, through secretion of metabolites or neurotransmitters, or indirectly,through first signaling to epithelial cells or immune cells, to regulate visceral, neuropathic and inflammatory pain. While this area of research is still in its infancy, more mechanistic studies to examine microbial-sensory neuron crosstalk in nociception may allow us to develop new therapies for the treatment of acute and chronic pain.

Keywords: Gut-extrinsic; Microorganisms; Pain; Pathogens; Sensory afferent neurons; Symbionts; Visceral pain.

Publication types

  • Review