Enhanced pain is a component of the 'sickness response' which is an evolutionarily adaptive constellation of responses that enhance the survival of the host. Proinflammatory cytokines mediate these sickness behaviors, and whether proinflammatory cytokines are involved in exaggerated pain has become an intriguing question. Studies suggest that spinal cord glial cells (astrocytes and microglia) are activated in conditions that lead to enhanced pain. Not only is glial activation associated with enhanced pain, but it is also integral to the induction and maintenance of these pain states. Proinflammatory cytokines can be released by activated astrocytes and microglia within the central nervous system. This review will discuss the role of proinflammatory cytokines in experimental models of prolonged pain states. Administration of exogenous proinflammatory cytokines facilitates pain, and agents that antagonize proinflammatory cytokine actions have been shown to block and/or reverse enhanced pain. These findings suggest that blocking the synthesis and/or release of proinflammatory cytokines may be viable strategies for the treatment of pathological pain. Gene therapy to augment the endogenous anti-inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-10, is one of the more promising therapies currently under study.
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