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Immune cells increase pain from nerve damage

An international group led by Brazilian pharmacologist Thiago Mattar Cunha of the University of São Paulo (USP), Ribeirão Preto, has identified and characterized one of the biochemical pathways that cause neuropathic pain. This type of chronic pain is caused by injuries to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or peripheral nervous system (nerves throughout the body) and affects up to 15% of the population. In tests on rodents, the scientists found that damage to peripheral nerves activated the infiltration of a type of immune system cell known as a dendritic cell in the meninges, the membranes that protect the central nervous system. In the meninges, the dendritic cells increase the production of molecules called kynurenines, which are activated by spinal cord cells and increase the sensitivity of neurons that perceive pain. The group found that if they deactivated kynurenine production, the pain disappeared (The Journal of Clinical Investigation, October 13, 2022). “With these results, we have opened the prospect of developing new compounds to block this biochemical pathway,” Cunha told Agência FAPESP.