Upon peripheral nerve injury (caused by trauma or disease process) axons of the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) somatosensory neurons have the ability to sprout and regrow/remyelinate to reinnervate distant target tissue or form a tangled scar mass called a neuroma. This regenerative response can become maladaptive leading to a persistent and debilitating pain state referred to as chronic pain corresponding to the clinical description of neuropathic/chronic inflammatory pain. There is little agreement to what causes peripheral chronic pain other than hyperactivity of the nociceptive DRG neurons which ultimately depends on the function of voltage-gated ion channels. This review focuses on the pharmacological modulators of voltage-gated ion channels known to be present on axonal membrane which represents by far the largest surface of DRG neurons. Blockers of voltage-gated Na(+) channels, openers of voltage-gated K(+) channels and blockers of hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated channels that were found to reduce neuronal activity were also found to be effective in neuropathic and inflammatory pain states. The isoforms of these channels present on nociceptive axons have limited specificity. The rationale for considering axonal voltage-gated ion channels as targets for pain treatment comes from the accumulating evidence that chronic pain states are associated with a dysregulation of these channels that could alter their specificity and make them more susceptible to pharmacological modulation. This drives the need for further development of subtype-specific voltage-gated ion channels modulators, as well as clinically available neurophysiological techniques for monitoring axonal ion channel function in peripheral nerves.
European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 2013, Vol 708, Issue 1-3, p. 105-112