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New targets for reducing nerve pain identified

Chronic nerve pain

There’s no pain like nerve pain. Whether it is because of a chronic illness or related to an injury, it may be obvious, but nerve pain hurts. That may change soon though, as a specific molecule involved in maintaining pain after a nerve injury has been identified and blocked in mice by researchers. These results reveal a promising therapeutic strategy for treating neuropathic pain.

Mice with an injury to their sciatic nerve showed less pain after multiple injections of a drug that blocks the activity of a molecule called high-mobility group box-1 (HMGB1). Researchers also discovered that a single dose of a drug to block the activity of a different molecule, called matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), could also alleviate pain from the injury.

The chemical pathways that these drugs use to inhibit HMGB1 or MMP-9 are different from common pain relievers, like opioids (Morphine) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Therefore, the potential for addiction or negative side-effects may be reduced, a much needed relief for both patients who are worried about addiction and Doctors who need to monitor their patients for addiction.

The results reveal that the drug to block HMGB1, called anti-HMGB1, has the downstream effect of preventing the increase of MMP-9 that would normally be expected when HMGB1 increases. Therefore, an inhibitor of MMP-9 may be a more direct route to produce the same effect. This is the first study to link HMGB1 and MMP-9 together in the cellular process of maintaining pain.

The team began their investigation of sciatic nerve pain as part of their long term studies of the central nervous system.

Sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, causes pain in the lower back, buttocks, or back of the leg and is often caused by a herniated disc in the spine or a pinched nerve. Similar pain can occur in different nerves in patients with cancer or diabetic neuropathy.

Previous studies by other research groups have injected anti-HMGB1 underneath the protective membranes surrounding the nerve. This method, called an intrathecal injection, is more complicated for doctors to perform and has more potential risks.

Prof. Nakata’s team demonstrates a pain-relieving effect from injecting anti-HMGB1 into the hip in the slightly broader area around the nerve, called a perineural injection, avoiding the complications of other injection methods. A localized injection also avoids the potential side-effects of delivering the drug through larger body systems, like a pill into the digestive system or an injection into the blood.

Blocking HMGB1 lessened pain with no negative impact on healing. Selectively blocking MMP-9 also relieved pain with no obvious changes to the activity of other molecules responding to the injury.

The results of this study show promise for relieving nerve pain with a chemically specific approach that is convenient for patients. When will you see this option offered by your Doctor? Well that is hard to say, the study was done with mice, so further studies need to be done before human trials can begin. In any case, there is hope over the horizon for people suffering, and that is better than no hope at all.

Zhang, F., Morioka, N., Harano, S., Nakamura, Y., Liu, K., Nishibori, M., Hisaoka-Nakashima, K., & Nakata, Y. (2016). Perineural expression of high-mobility group box-1 contributes to long-lasting mechanical hypersensitivity via matrix metalloprotease-9 up-regulation in mice with painful peripheral neuropathy Journal of Neurochemistry, 136 (4), 837-850 DOI: 10.1111/jnc.13434

2 responses

  1. Michelle McGennis

    I think that this research is amazing! Millions of different people suffer from sciatic nerve pain and this is something that can really help those who need it. I know that I never had issues until I was pregnant with my son. He actually sat near my sciatic nerve and would sometimes kick it. It was the worse pain I had ever felt and I wouldn’t be able to move. I couldn’t imagine what other people go through on a daily basis with something like this. I was very happy to read this because it gave me more insight on what it is, how it’s caused and that there are things that can help alleviate the pain. Thank you for sharing. I really did enjoy every bit of this.


    April 12, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. As a guy I can’t relate to the pregnancy story, but I do understand pain so I’m sorry that you had to deal with that. But, I bet it was worth it in the end at least, well after you got over the lack of sleep 🙂


      April 13, 2016 at 12:03 pm

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